Rainbow STEM Alliance Response to IFI/Vex/RECF

11/16/2022

We, the Board of Directors of the Rainbow STEM Alliance (RSA) are troubled to see the allegations and first hand accounts of misogyny, queer-phobia, harassment, and intimidation that has occurred at Innovation First International (IFI) and its subsidiaries. Many of us considered many members of the current and former staff at IFI, who were likely complicit and aware, friends. We find these actions to be abhorrent.

We believe that all people deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and appreciation. We pride ourselves on working with partners towards fostering an inclusive environment for every student who seeks to learn about STEM. We have had frank and honest conversations with some of these partners in the past - whether regarding their choices in event venue selection, or in terms of ways to improve their registration systems to promote inclusivity of all LGBTQ+ people.

We are deeply troubled by the response from the CEO of the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation (RECF), as well as the response from IFI as a separate legal entity. We feel these responses do little to address the issues presented. They also go on to victim blame and gaslight those who found the courage to step forward to address the allegations with first hand experiences.

We would like to challenge the RECF to do better for their students. We would implore the IFI leadership to do better, and listen to their staff, as well as former staff, and find ways to move forward in an inclusive manner.

The RSA will continue to support and include LGBTQ+ people in all programs. We encourage anyone in the RECF/VRC spheres to reach out to discuss ways of fostering inclusivity within your programs, and ways in which we can assist the students who are still in these environments. Many of them may not feel seen, or supported at this time.

For anyone who may be experiencing a harmful situation, on a team, company, or other group, there are resources and organizations to help.

Sincerely,

The Rainbow STEM Alliance Board of Directors

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This is an accurate (and maybe even reserved) interpretation of IFI’s statement, but I don’t think it is fair to characterize RECF’s response as victim blaming or gaslighting.

It was reasonable for RECF to not address the issues directly. They are not responsible for IFI’s problems and, as far as I know, are not implicated in the happenings of the last week (beyond ties to IFI). RECF was aware that IFI was preparing a response but, as far as I can tell, did not know what the contents of the response would be. It would have been irresponsible for them to say much more before seeing the IFI statement.

Now that IFI has responded and clearly has no intent to do anything about this (except victim blame and gaslight), the bar is higher. There is a lot of work left for RECF. I will be very disappointed if they do not publish a follow-up after the disgrace of a response IFI gave. RECF has a responsibility to directly denounce IFI, and to take further action to divest from IFI products and influence.

It’s also worth noting that Tony Norman is on the board of RECF. Anything short of ousting him is unacceptable. This takes time, and almost certainly can’t be handled in a very public manner without a lawsuit arising.

Tangent on operational separation, RECF's Board, ties to IFI, and some other stuff

There are a lot of ways that RECF is tied to IFI. Notably, the board is mostly IFI-connected people:

  • Tony Norman - obvious
  • Paul Copioli - former president of VEX. Left VEX for reasons unrelated to RECF (as far as I know).
  • Dan Mantz - former president of RackSolutions. Left RackSolutions to become CEO of RECF.
  • Ronald Arscheene - former mentor for FRC217 Thunderchickens

RECF's connections to FRC217

GuideStar, for some odd reason, still has the name of RECF’s listing as “THUNDERCHICKENS ROBOTICS CLUB INC”, despite other information about RECF being correct.

It also shows the Board of Directors as empty, but “Self-reported by organization” on 10/12/2022. It’s odd that the list of directors appears to have been emptied right before all of this started coming out.

THUNDERCHICKENS ROBOTICS CLUB INC - GuideStar Profile

The RECF used to be known as THUNDERCHICKENS ROBOTICS CLUB INC, prior to a name change in 2010 to the now-current name. The company was originally founded in Michigan in 2003, as the nonprofit parent organization for FRC217.

History based on Michigan Annual Report Filings

It was filed with 10,000 shares? I’m not sure of the details on that, never heard of nonprofits having “shares” before.

There was some re-org in 2007, with the articles of incorporation being updated, but I can’t find a record of the updates. I can’t find the list of board of directors until 2009. In 2007, they started submitting annual filings, and the 2007-2009 filings all state no changes. The 2009 filing lists the board of directors: Paul Copioli (President), Jennifer Copioli (Treasurer), Ron Arscheene (Director), Anita Stafford (Secretary ), and Edward Debler (VP), all with business addresses in MI.

As mentioned, in 2010, the name was changed to RECF. The 2010 annual filing states no changes. The 2011 annual filing changes Paul Copioli to a Director, Edward Debler to a Director, and adds Jason Morrella as President, all with business addresses in TX. No changes in the 2012 annual report.

In 2013, Jason Morella moves to Secretary, Paul Copioli moves to Treasurer, Jennifer Copioli is removed, Joseph Astroth is added as President, Edward Debler is removed, and David (Tony) Norman is added as a Director. No changes in 2014-2016.

In 2017, Tony Norman becomes Treasurer, Jason Morella becomes President, Paul Copioli is now spelled Paul Capolli (and still is to this day), Paul “Capolli” becomes Secretary, Joseph Astroth is removed, and William (Dan) Mantz is added as Director.

In 2018, Dan Mantz becomes President and Jason Morella is removed. No changes since then.

History based on IRS 990 filings (only 2015 onward)

Note: the Michigan filings are generally at the start of the tax years used for the IRS filings.

In the 2014 990 filing (for tax year from Sept 2014 to Aug 2015, filed in 2017), Jason Morella is listed as president, Joseph Astroth is listed as Chairman (with term ending 7/31/2015), Paul Copioli is listed as Secretary, and Tony Norman as a Director. Ronald Arscheene is missing from the IRS filing for this year, but present in the Michigan records.

In the 2015 990 filing (for tax year from Sept 2015 to Aug 2016, filed twice in 2017 due to a mistake), Joseph Astroth is removed, and Ronald Arscheene is on this filing (as a director).

In the 2016 990 filing (for tax year from Sept 2016 to Aug 2017, filed in 2018), Dan Mantz is added as Chairman.

In the 2017 990 filing (for tax year from Sept 2017 to Aug 2018, filed in 2020), Jason Morella is removed.

Miller Roberts is listed as VP of Operations for 2014-2016 (but not a director).

In 2018/2019, both Jason Morella and Miller Roberts begin working with Revolution Robotics Foundation. Jason Morella is listed as a co-founder. Somewhat irrelevant but interesting, Dave Lavery is listed as a current member of the board of RRF.

In the 2018 990 filing, no list of directors is included

In the 2019 990 filing, no changes in the list relative to 2017.


There are also many ties to IFI through volunteers, funding for RECF, the obvious branding of VRC and other VEX competitons, etc. Those have varying degrees of influence, and may be impossible to mitigate on a short timescale.

People will look at those ties and suggest that RECF and IFI are one and the same. They are not. While the board of RECF is mostly people with ties to IFI, some of those ties aren’t what they used to be. I don’t know most of the details, so I won’t speak to that more.

As the CEO, RECF speaks through Dan Mantz. The statement from RECF was very different from the IFI statement. I think that difference alone speaks to the operational separation between IFI and RECF.

I believe that RECF (the entity) and Dan Mantz did not know what IFI’s response would be, despite Tony Norman being on the board.

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Thank you for stepping forward and making this statement. In addition, than you for ensuring LGBTQ+ members of VRC teams aren’t hung out to dry with the current divestment, as it is true many of them don’t have another easy option and still need support and protection.

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