Equity FAQ

As we’ve moved forward on our journey toward racial equity at Hugo House, it’s become clear that our policies, procedures, and operations have been opaque to members of our community. In an effort to be more transparent about our work, we offer answers here to some of the most pertinent questions brought to us over the past six months. We will continue to add to this list as we get further into the process. 

Have a question that isn’t answered here? Let us know.


Organization

What is the current status of the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consultant and executive director searches?

Searches for both a new executive director and a DEI consultant have been placed on hold at the request of the Writers of Color Alliance (WOCA). The Hugo House board, DEI committee, and WOCA are in discussions to create a power-sharing agreement that will provide BIPOC community members a key role in filling these two open positions. As of June 17, the discussions were underway but the agreement was not yet final.

Does Hugo House receive government funding? What are the sources of Hugo House’s funds?

Hugo House’s operating budget is primarily funded by the revenue generated by our classes and secondarily by donations from individuals and private foundations. Only a minor amount of funding support—less than 4%—has historically come from government grants.

We receive grants from our local government (4Culture, and Washington State Arts Commission) and our national government (The National Endowment for the Arts).

  • In 2018, government grants accounted for 3.9% of our general operating revenue
  • In 2019, government grants accounted for 2.9% of our general operating revenue
  • In 2020, government grants accounted for 3% of our general operating revenue. Of that, COVID-19 relief grants account for 2%, and our standard government grants account for 1%.

How are Hugo House board members selected? What do they do?

Hugo House board members are recruited from the greater Seattle community. Most board members join the board after volunteering to be a member of one of the board’s standing committees, such as Fundraising, Marketing, or Finance. After spending a year or so demonstrating their commitment to the work, individuals who have expressed an interest in further investing their time at Hugo House are considered for board membership. Board members are not paid for their service.

Hugo House board members are tasked with governance oversight of the organization and its executive director, including but not limited to: approving the annual budget, assisting with marketing efforts and grant writing, fundraising to meet budget requirements, and cultivating donors and new volunteers and board members. Their primary responsibility is to ensure good stewardship of the organization.

We strive for our board to represent the community we serve. At present the thirteen-member board includes four members who identify as BIPOC.

What were the circumstances surrounding Tree Swenson’s resignation as executive director?

Former Executive Director Tree Swenson submitted her resignation to the Hugo House board of directors on February 19, 2021, following a public campaign for her dismissal from members of the Seattle literary community, led by the Writers of Color Alliance (WOCA). These community members were concerned that Hugo House was not prioritizing or making progress toward its racial equity goals, and advocated for a change in leadership.

Tree led a nine-year period of growth at Hugo House, which culminated in securing a permanent home for Hugo House near its long-term location on Capitol Hill, which was being torn down. She left the organization in a strong financial position for the first time in many years.

However, after listening to feedback from the community, she came to the conclusion that she was not the best person to lead Hugo House’s next chapter, and she resigned to make space for a new director to take the helm.

Classes

Does Hugo House provide financial aid and/or scholarships? How do you apply? What is the decision-making process?

We offer two forms of tuition assistance: scholarships for adult and youth classes and sliding-scale tuition for youth workshops and camps. 

Scholarships for each quarter open 4–5 weeks before general registration opens, to allow us to reserve spaces in the classes applicants have chosen. The application itself is short and takes under ten minutes to complete. (Applications can be found here.) When granting a scholarship, we look at geographic location (prioritizing our greater Seattle community), financial need, interest in writing, and any compelling extenuating circumstances, including prior limited access to writing instruction.

We especially encourage applications from BIPOC, LGBTQ, and other underrepresented voices. We grant one scholarship per student per quarter and up to two scholarships per student per year. All scholarship recipients remain anonymous to our teachers.

For our youth camps and workshops, upon registering participants have the opportunity to select the level of tuition they are comfortable paying: 30%, 60%, 90% or full tuition. Those who are unable to pay at the minimum level of the sliding scale are encouraged to apply for a scholarship.

How are Hugo House teachers and classes chosen?

Teachers and classes are selected through a process developed in collaboration with the community. The Hugo House Class Selection Committee consists of a rotating group of Hugo House staff and community members. The committee reviews class proposals and other relevant information in order to select classes that will be offered through Hugo House in upcoming terms. There is no numerical limit on the number of classes that Hugo House can accept, though the total number of classes selected for a quarter will typically be determined by a combination of the previous two quarters’ performance, the same quarter’s performance in prior years (i.e., how that quarter’s classes typically perform as compared to the full year), projected demand, space availability, and annual budget goals.

The committee makes its decisions by consensus following group discussion, taking into account the following criteria (in no particular order):

  • Content (including whether a class is on a current topic of interest, recognizing that there is value in offering classes of niche interest as well)
  • Cultural/social/literary/industry trends
  • Ability to attract diverse audiences, including BIPOC and other excluded or marginalized communities (based, for example, on content, identity of the teacher, or accessibility/language, among others
  • Teacher qualifications and experience (recognizing that teachers with less experience may be provided appropriate support to be able to offer classes, and that people of historically marginalized backgrounds may not have the same qualifications (i.e. publication or academic records) as others)
  • Student reviews and feedback of previous classes offered, if any (including whether support can be provided based on this feedback)
  • Accessibility
  • Genre balance across the full selection
  • Whether the class has been offered previously, or is similar to another current proposal
  • Clarity and care in crafting the proposal
  • Community feedback (in the form of surveys, student feedback, etc.)
  • For new teachers, previous teaching experience and teaching philosophy

Does Hugo House pay teachers equitably?

Yes, although different types of classes have different compensation models. Here’s how it breaks out:

For the vast majority of Hugo House classes, teachers are paid a fixed percentage of their class’s stated tuition, multiplied by the number of students who enroll in their class. Tuition prices are based on hours of instruction per class. Teachers who have taught more than ten classes for Hugo House are compensated at a slightly higher rate.

There are two exceptions:

  1. Youth writing classes: Our youth teachers are paid a flat rate. Because Scribes offers a significant amount of scholarships and a sliding scale tuition, the per-student percentage-of-tuition approach to determining pay would not result in fair compensation. Hence, we pay a fixed stipend.
  2. Visiting Speaker-as-Teacher: When a Mainstage event speaker chooses to teach a class, the stated tuition and the percentage rate is set higher than our business-as-usual classes. This is our way of offering additional compensation to speakers who have heavily discounted their speaking rate for us.

In no instances is compensation influenced by race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or physical ability.

What expectation does Hugo House have of students and their conduct in the classroom?

Hugo House is an organization that values a classroom environment where all participants are respectful and inclusive. Each student who enters a classroom agrees to our Student Guidelines, which outlines our community agreement, as well as rules for workshop, participation, confidentiality, and the physical space. These guidelines are sent to students individually before each class, as well as freely available on our website.

We encourage any student or teacher who sees, hears, or experiences an issue in a classroom to interrupt, call attention to and/or label what’s happening, and/or to share the experience with Hugo House administration by contacting the registrar. 

What does Hugo House do when a student issues a complaint?

In response to reporting, Hugo House will, at minimum, have a conversation with the person (or persons) who did the harm regarding the intentional or unintentional impact of their words and/or actions and what they will do differently in the future.

Further actions Hugo House may take include: asking the student to speak with the executive director, being put on a probationary status, or being asked to no longer participate in programs until they can demonstrate that they have a better understanding of the impact of their actions and a willingness to change.

Depending on the severity of the act or the impact, Hugo House may elect to inform the person that they are no longer welcome on Hugo House grounds or venues.

Events

How are Hugo House events planned and curated?

Events are either proposed by performers, their representatives, partner organizations, or by Hugo House’s events curator. In all instances, the events curator will work closely with performers or their representatives to schedule the event or make changes as needed (changes can include marketing copy, lineup, honorarium, travel, staging, etc.). Once everyone is agreed on all details, the event will be booked and added to Hugo House’s calendar. If you are interested in proposing a literary event, please fill out our events request form.

Occasionally, Hugo House will serve as a rental venue for organizations or individuals unaffiliated with our mission. Although the planning process is largely the same, these events are generally not listed in Hugo House’s calendar. If you are interested in renting Hugo House’s theater or event services, please visit our rentals page for rates and details.

Does Hugo House pay performers equitably?

Yes. To the best of our knowledge, there has never been an event in Hugo House’s history where a white writer was paid and a BIPOC writer was not. However, in most cases, only artists performing in a ticketed event will receive an honorarium.

More than 90% of our events are not ticketed and entirely free for the public to attend. These events take many shapes and include everyone from writers on book tour, where publishers are booking venues in order to market a new book, to first-time authors reading in our open mic series. In all of these events, Hugo House donates the space and funds the cost of staffing and theater management (including maintenance and equipment). Hugo House also provides marketing and publicity to promote the event. Though artists are not paid to appear in these events, there is no correlation between this policy and artists’ identities.

Ticketed events, including our Word Works and Hugo Literary Series events, are priced to help fund the cost of writers’ speaking fees. These writers are paid a rate negotiated directly with the writers and/or their representatives and which is scaled to Hugo House’s budget as a small venue. The honorarium might come as a flat rate, a percentage of ticket sales, a percentage of a class tuition, or a combination of the above. Although honorariums vary from writer to writer, under no circumstances do we pay BIPOC writers systematically less than white writers.

Often, qualified visiting writers are offered the opportunity to teach a class as a way to provide or augment an honorarium. Performers who choose to teach a class may opt for a per-student rate, a percentage of tuition, or a flat fee for teaching the course.