Apology

by Jacy_Reese3 min read22nd Mar 2019118 comments

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Some people have expressed concern that I have made some people uncomfortable with my online romantic advances. I never intended to cause any discomfort, and I’m sorry that I did so. I intend to step back from public life and the activism communities I’ve belonged to. I want to err on the side of caution, and I already planned to step back after the launch of my book last year so I could focus on my research. I have been and continue to be eager to participate in any healing or restorative processes that would benefit any individuals I have wronged in any way.

I have confirmed with third parties that there have been no complaints from anyone who has worked with or for me. I was presented with a specific conversation over Facebook Messenger, which I have been able to view in my own message history. During what I perceived to be mutual flirting, I said “Okay cutie :)”. The person said they were not interested, and I said “Okay thks for clarifying :)”. I then mentioned that I was in a polyamorous/open relationship, in order to clarify that I was not cheating or intending to cheat on my partner, which the person interpreted as persistent flirting. When I was told by a third party that the person felt uncomfortable with this exchange, I apologized, the other person thanked me for the apology, and the third party said they believed I in good faith appreciated these situations.

I have been told by third parties that the concerns were about “coming on too strong” or going “0 to 60” with people I was flirting with over Facebook Messenger. Some have said that while my romantic advances would be appropriate in some contexts, it was made problematic by the power dynamics of my position as a public figure. Some have said that people viewed interactions with me in a different light after hearing about my apparent reputation of promiscuity and sleeping around, which was widely discussed in the community in August 2018, shortly before these concerns were brought to my attention.

My approach to expressing romantic interest has always been forward and direct. I am very frank, though I always do my best to be polite and courteous. In the past I’ve perceived this to have been received positively by others, who appreciated the openness and honesty, including the people I’ve ended up having long-term relationships with, but I know that having to deal with advances at all can be hurtful, uncomfortable, and frustrating, and I’m sorry for not being as aware of the effects of my actions as I should have been. I also now better understand how the dynamic between someone in a public or influential role and other members of the community can put them on unequal footing.

After a third party told me last fall about the anonymous concerns, I also wrote an apology that the third party could share with any anonymous complainants who had contacted them, and I committed to not making advances on anyone employed in the animal advocacy movement. I wanted to err on the side of caution and avoid doing any further harm, so I took this step to ensure that there was no chance of causing anyone further discomfort. As far as I know, nobody has alleged that I have broken this commitment

CEA was made aware of concerns about my behavior. We no longer have any relationship and have agreed that I will not attend or speak at EAG or other CEA events. I am also stepping back from the EA community more generally, as I have been planning to since last year in order to focus on my research. I already stopped moderating EA Facebook groups last year due to time constraints, but I will officially remove myself from “moderator” and “administrator” statuses in groups where I still have that role.

In the interest of transparency and clearing the air, I want to clarify that several rumors have been shared about me that are provably false, for instance, that I was banned from attending an animal advocacy conference, which never happened to my knowledge, or that I was warned about misbehavior and then alleged of not changing my behavior after that warning. I do not deny that I have made mistakes, but I am saddened and hurt by the rumors and falsehoods I have heard, mostly vague and third-hand. Most of the people I have spoken with about the allegations also did not hear about the restorative process, apologies, or commitment to improve that happened. I hope this public statement helps clarify the situation for outside observers.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I am stepping back from public life and will reflect on these issues further. I am grateful to all of my friends and colleagues who have helped me to understand my failures and become a better person. I accept the corrective actions discussed herein that mediators have agreed on, and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to understand, right my wrongs, and improve.

In the interest of facilitating healthy discussion, I am not planning to respond to any comments on this post. If you have had interactions with me that you found problematic, please feel free to send me what information you are comfortable sharing, anonymously or otherwise, via this link. You can also reach Julia Wise, one of CEA’s community liaisons, at julia.wise@centreforeffectivealtruism.org.

Below is a statement from CEA:

We approached Jacy about our concerns about his behavior after receiving reports from several parties about concerns over several time periods, and we discussed this public statement with him. We have not been able to discuss details of most of these concerns in order to protect the confidentiality of the people who raised them, but we find the reports credible and concerning. It’s very important to CEA that EA be a community where people are treated with fairness and respect. If you’ve experienced problems in the EA community, we want to help. Julia Wise serves as a contact person for the community, and you can always bring concerns to her confidentially.

Note: This post has been updated since its original publication to clarify and include updated information.

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I'm glad there's a way for people to be able to raise concerns about a problem within the community, without telling the world they're a victim or fearing retaliation.

7pton2yAn investigative journalist has now spoken with a number of people involved in this process and wrote about this post [https://medium.com/@marcgunther/the-peculiar-metoo-story-of-animal-activist-jacy-reese-eb921b72c9c9] with some more details. A few informative quotes: From the journalist: “In the case of Jacy Reese, as best I can tell — which is not very well at all — he is being accused by a number of women of “insistent or clumsy flirting,” most of it online, via text or Facebook message.” From Kelly: “When CEA contacted us last Monday, they seemed very concerned about the allegation against him from seven years ago, when he was a teenager, which almost everyone we have discussed this with mistakenly believed was an allegation of assault. Multiple people have communicated to Jacy and me that when that allegation became shared widely in the community last year, in the month before any concerns were brought to his attention, it sparked discussions about his current behavior, as well as the spreading of verifiably false rumors.” From Julia (who said that reporting this story would be counterproductive): “I respect the decision (Jacy) has made to step back from EA generally. I think he responded appropriately, and I don’t want to dis-incentivize that.” [Note: There is now more information which suggests the allegations were not as severe as commenters here believed. In addition to the journalist saying the allegations amounted to “insistent or clumsy flirting," the single example of which we know details involved Jacy calling someone "cutie," to which the discussant said they were not interested, and he responded that he was in a "polyamorous/open" relationship, which the discussant interpreted as continued flirting, but he says was only meant "to clarify that he was not cheating or intending to cheat on his partner."]

While it may be technically true that Jacy was a “teenager” at the time the Brown incidents occurred, Kelly’s use of that term to suggest that her partner was somehow less morally responsible for his actions strikes me as regrettable. Very few teenagers are formally accused of sexual misconduct, and even fewer expelled from a university following an accusation. Moreover, any attempt to tacitly attribute Jacy’s early behavior to immaturity is in tension with the existence of independent accusations by multiple women in recent years.

Very few teenagers are formally accused of sexual misconduct, and even fewer expelled from a university following an accusation.

I searched for information on how Brown University handles sexual misconduct and quickly found two cases of judges siding with students who felt they were treated unfairly by Brown University tribunals.

A federal judge has reinstated a Brown University student after finding that the Ivy League school in Providence, R.I., improperly judged him responsible for sexual misconduct.
...
"After the preliminary injunction, this Court was deluged with emails resulting from an organized campaign to influence the outcome. These tactics, while perhaps appropriate and effective in influencing legislators or officials in the executive branch, have no place in the judicial process. This is basic civics, and one would think students and others affiliated with a prestigious Ivy League institution would know this. Moreover, having read a few of the emails, it is abundantly clear that the writers, while passionate, were woefully ignorant about the issues before the Court."
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It’s extremely rare for a judge to intervene in such a case against a private university becau
... (read more)
-19alexrjl2y
-11pton2y

While it is good that you are apologising, I would also like to point out that the allegations are serious enough for CEA to: (1) ban you from EA events; (2) remove you from moderator roles in EA Facebook groups; (3) generally completely disassociate and sever ties with you; (4) sever ties with the Sentience Institute. These steps, to my knowledge, are completely unprecedented for CEA. For this reason, I would caution against the EA movement being overly welcoming of Jacy in the medium term at the very least.

These steps, to my knowledge, are completely unprecedented for CEA.

I think CEA may have done something similar with Gleb, though for very different reasons: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/fn7bo8sYEHS3RPKQG/concerns-with-intentional-insights

These steps, to my knowledge, are completely unprecedented for CEA.

I do know that CEA does not talk publicly about cases like this, so I don't think we would know whether there are other cases like this. I know of at least one case that has not been at all publicly discussed in which someone was banned from all EA events, and practically banned from ever having any kind of leadership position again.

Kathy Forth mentioned getting someone banned from EAG.

-2pton2yThere is now more information which suggests the allegations were not as severe as commenters here believed. Namely an investigative journalist [https://medium.com/@marcgunther/the-peculiar-metoo-story-of-animal-activist-jacy-reese-eb921b72c9c9] says the allegations amounted to “insistent or clumsy flirting." The single example of which we know details involved Jacy calling someone "cutie," to which the discussant said they were not interested, and he responded that he was in a "polyamorous/open" relationship, which the discussant interpreted as continued flirting, but he says was only meant "to clarify that he was not cheating or intending to cheat on his partner."
-38kbog2y

I don't think it's clear from this post which steps weren't voluntary, and I don't think we should make assumptions.

I'm familiar with a specific case in this area where CEA's response seemed excessive to me. And I've heard of CEA employees, people who were middle-of-the-road politically, who began to tire of CEA's excessive concern for its public image and the public image of the EA movement.

But the thing is that excessive concern for public image might not be a bad idea in this day and age. People have written books about this.

6zjl2yCEA is not in charge of the entire EA community. They can't ban someone from EA events hosted by other people or from moderating EA Facebook groups, and I think it’s unhealthy for one organization to have or be perceived as having that kind of control over a community such as EA. Maybe CEA wants these things, but the post says that these are agreements with CEA or actions Jacy is taking. The only action CEA is specified as taking is “CEA has decided to end its relationship” with Jacy. I think we should try not to assume the worst when it comes to the content of allegations like this. These are anonymous allegations, we don’t have details, and he’s apologized. CEA might be concerned about a publicity risk, even for relatively minor and resolvable allegations. And there have been complaints about CEA’s decisions in the past, particularly regarding public disassociation like this recent [https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/2160126377377041/] example [https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/2160126377377041/] .

He has himself agreed to step back from the EA community more generally, and to step back from public life in general, which would be an odd move if these were minor misdemeanours. He has admitted that there have been numerous cases of improper conduct. To me, this evidence, combined with the fact that he has been treated so severely by CEA updates me towards the view that the allegations are serious. I suspect there is a lot of legal wrangling and confidentiality concerns here that don't give us full information, but the signals are not good.

He has himself agreed to step back from the EA community more generally, and to step back from public life in general, which would be an odd move if these were minor misdemeanours.

Not necessarily, in the current cultural milieu.

I think enforcement of this stuff is very uneven and depends a lot on your social circle. Some social circles are underzealous in their enforcement, others overzealous. Given purity spiral dynamics which seem present in the animal rights movement, it seems possible their enforcement is overzealous.

As an extreme example, the Young Adult fiction community has recently seen multiple authors cancel their completed and to-be-published books based on allegations that would not be taken very seriously in EA or most communities. One example is detailed in Slate, where Amelie Zhao's anticipated book, Blood Heir, was essentially retracted by the author after completion but before publication because of social media pressure stemming from flimsy-seeming accusations of racial insensitivity and plagiarism.

To be clear, I do not think it is plausible that Jacy is wholly innocent. Persistent accusations going back to him getting expelled from college seem quite likely to be rooted in some level of harmful behavior. But I don't think Jacy apologizing and stepping back from public life is strong evidence of anything - it seems to me that he would likely do that even if he thought he had only committed minor misdeamoners. CEA's response seems like stronger evidence of harmful behavior to me.

He has himself agreed to step back from the EA community more generally, and to step back from public life in general, which would be an odd move if these were minor misdemeanours.

fwiw he didn't step back for very long, at least on Twitter.

His next tweet was 10 days after this was posted, and as far as I can tell he never mentioned this episode on his feed. (He has ~30,900 followers on Twitter.)

-7kbog2y
-14pton2y
-4Evan_Gaensbauer2yFor posterity, to reiterate what Habryka said, I am familiar with the case to which he is referring.
-8pton2y
-14badbadnotgood2y

I realize that confidentiality prevents me from knowing all the information, but I honestly can't work out what to do with this information, especially regarding working with Jacy in the future. I have three possible interpretations, and each interpretation suggests a different action I should take (there may be other interpretations, or this situation could also be part way between two interpretations).

A) he's been doing inappropriate things (possibly not realizing they were not okay), was given a chance to improve his behavior, but did not, causing CEA to ban him and ask for a public apology.

B) he did some quite egregious things - things that a reasonable person would KNOW are not okay - so CEA banned him and asked for a public apology at the same time as alerting him of these complaints.

C) he's been doing inappropriate things (possibly not realizing they were not okay), and CEA banned him and asked for a public apology at the same time as alerting him of these complaints.

A) seems in contrast to "It has recently been brought to my attention" however, of course this may not be true.

B) could fit. The OP insinuates the problems were due to "forwar... (read more)

It appears that Jacy has a history of questionable conduct towards women going back at least 6 years: http://www.browndailyherald.com/2012/12/03/letter-student-alleges-insufficient-evidence-for-possible-expulsion/#comment-868568432

I think this combined with CEA's decision should cause people to update in the direction that this is more serious than someone unsuccessfully navigating social interactions and being punished unfairly for it. I acknowledge that Jacy strenuously denies the Brown allegations, but either Jacy is very clueless (and incredibly unlucky, to have suffered through multiple instances of false allegations or "misunderstandings"), or this is a pattern of bad behaviour.

I would like to thank the people who came forward to report their experiences, in this case and in others. You have likely contributed to making the community safer for me and other women.

It's also worth noting that kbog, who has been vigorously defending Jacy in the comments here, seems to have deleted this information from Jacy's wikipedia page back in August 2018:

Reese's career at Brown was cut short, however, by what he claimed were false allegations of sexual misconduct. Despite Reese's protests that the University's standard of "preponderance of evidence" against him was insufficient, Reese was expelled from Brown University in 2012 without completing his sophomore year.

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jacy_Reese&type=revision&diff=856540437&oldid=856509360

5pton2yThe post says"CEA was made aware of these and other concerns about my past behavior" and CEA's statement reads "after receiving reports from several parties about concerns over several time periods", and I don't think CEA would have missed the Brown allegations, so it seems likely that they are part of the concerns that CEA has with Jacy's behavior. We should be mindful that the Brown allegations might be the source of some or most of the concerns, and hearing about them might have even caused people to view interactions with Jacy in a different light.

The accusation of sexual misconduct at Brown is one of the things that worried us at CEA. But we approached Jacy primarily out of concern about other more recent reports from members of the animal advocacy and EA communities.

2Habryka2yHmm, it is not at all clear to me that the accusations that are being discussed here are separate from the accusations that appear to have caused his apology. I agree that if they were from separate disconnected communities, then that would be significant evidence, but given the things said above, I don't think we or Jacy would know if the people involved were separate from the people involved in his Brown expulsion (Brown has an Effective Altruism group that was quite active in 2015, so it seems quite likely that EA was already a large part of his social circle at the time [Edit: The article is from 2012, not 2015 as I initially misread. This means the people involved might still be upstream of the complaints, but it's unlikely they were part of the Effective Altruism social network]).

The link is from 2012. Was there an active EA group at Brown in 2012?

The link talks about Jacy's membership in a fraternity and it suggests that many (at least) of the actors relevant to the accusation were in the fraternity. I see no reason to think that the fraternity was EA-affiliated. So it seems likely this was a separate, disconnected community.

There was likely no EA group at Brown in 2012, given that Effective Altruism as a term has only really been around since 2013. When I first read the article I thought it was from 2015, probably because the author of the comment you linked to had the name "Brown '15" (and Jacy signs at the bottom as Jacy '15). My bad for misreading that.

I do think that makes it less likely that these accusations are from the same people, though I still wouldn't rule it out. From reading the comments it appears to have been a pretty high-profile case internally at Brown, and I wouldn't be too surprised if a lot of the evidence that caused this response is still downstream of that.

Jacy denies one set of allegations but not the others, so presumably they must refer to different cases at different times

it is not at all clear to me that the accusations that are being discussed here are separate from the accusations that appear to have caused his apology. I agree that if they were from separate disconnected communities, then that would be significant evidence

In his apology, Jacy says that he "know[s] very little of the details of these allegations." But he clearly knows the Brown allegations very well. So even ignoring the other evidence cited by Halstead, the allegations for which he is apologizing clearly can't include the Brown allegations.

EDIT: I now see it's also possible that Jacy was presented with so little information that he wouldn't be able to determine if the allegations CEA was concerned with included the Brown allegations, however well he knew the latter. My reasoning above ignores this possibility. Personally, I think the evidence Halstead offered is pretty conclusive, so I don't think this makes a practical difference, but it still seemed something worth mentioning.

So you think a serious possibility that we should consider is that people at Brown from 7 years ago have come to CEA to complain about Jacy?

5Habryka2yYes, I think that is quite plausible. While it isn't a full 6 years, I have followed up with and reported people who have had a history of abusive behavior in the EA and Rationality communities and moved on to other communities around four years ago. It seems quite plausible that someone would also follow up 6 years later.

"Quite plausible"? What's your actual credence?

Around 25% that a large fraction of the complaints to CEA are from the same people who he interacted with at Brown.

Some additional probability (~10%) that they didn't directly make most of those complaints, but that they reached out to people close to him, told them about the stuff at Brown and encouraged them to take action against Jacy if they ever perceived anything similar happening around him (which would still result in probably valid reports, but also cause some amount of overreporting).

[Edit: Updated from 20% to 25% after seeing that his Wikipedia page was edited this year from anonymous accounts, with repeated references to the Brown case. Again, this doesn't mean that the accusations are wrong, but I do think makes it more likely that the accusations discussed here are from the same source]

Thanks for agreeing to state your credences explicitly (and strongly upvoted for that reason).

I thought it was important to get more precision given the evidence showing that qualifiers such as 'possible', 'likely', etc are compatible with a wide range of values. Before your subsequent clarification, I interpreted your 'quite plausible' as expressing a probability of ~60%.

Alas, that does update me towards using probabilities even more than I usually do. I definitely did not intend to communicate a 60% probability.

As I mention below, he admits the allegations above but not the brown ones. Are you saying he is admitting to the brown ones in the statement above and therefore that he lied in 2012? And If he denied the brown allegations in 2012 in the public spotlight, why would he stop doing that now just because someone has raised the brown complaints to CEA?

As Holly said above, I do not think that Jacy is actually admitting to significant wrongdoing in the above. I think he has been asked to apologize, and is doing so, and is admitting to the possibility of having caused at least some discomfort, but not that he actually violated any major boundaries.

Oli, this doesn't make sense.

1. In the Brown statement, he strenuously denies wrongdoing and does not admit the possibility of having done something wrong.

2.You are saying that this is an admission to the possibility of having done something wrong and that this refers to the Brown allegations.

This implies:

3. He has changed his view of the Brown allegations.

You deny 3. This is not consistent. Please tell me which part of this you disagree with.

I think Holly is better placed to continue this discussion.

I don't think the apology above gives us much more evidence than that Jacy believes "I recognize that I probably caused some unnecessary discomfort, and I apologize for that", which is definitely not the same as "I admit to sexually harassing other people to a degree that it was right to expel me from my university".

7Holly_Elmore2yJust to be clear, I barely know Jacy. I've seen him many times at events, including when he came to Harvard on his book tour, but I don't believe I've ever had a private conversation with him. (Fwiw he never came close to being inappropriate with me or giving me a bad vibe.)
-10Halstead2y
3Halstead2yI know the two are not the same - this argument was about your claim: "Hmm, it is not at all clear to me that the accusations that are being discussed here [the Brown accusations] are separate from the accusations that appear to have caused his apology."
8Holly_Elmore2yI think you're really grasping at straws here. Is the point to depose Oli, or what? Surely you can't think you're going to get more information about what did or did not happen this way. There are many conceivable ways that the Brown allegations could color CEA's perception of more recent allegation, making the different events not entirely separate.

We were debating the claim "Hmm, it is not at all clear to me that the accusations that are being discussed here [the Brown accusations] are separate from the accusations that appear to have caused his apology." Julia Wise's comments has confirmed that the claims were separate. The term 'separate' here means 'different instance of sexual harassment'.

By "not entirely separate," I meant something more like "the Brown accusations have put him under a level of scrutiny that makes future allegations more likely/more likely to be refelexively believed/make smaller incidents more damning, even if he weren't doing anything to provoke them." So I was referring more to whether the judges in the recent events were affected by knowledge of the Brown events, that kind of "not entirely separate." The events themselves, you're right, would have to be different instances.

What I thought was grasping at straws was your attempt at gotcha syllogistic reasoning.

ok thanks, understood. i hope it wasn't grasping at straws, but maybe this debate has got too sidetracked and should draw to a close.

2throwaway32yYes but he would say that either way? One question is whether there's just enough ambiguity to navigate the waters in today's climate, or subtly more ambiguity.
0AnonEA2y[delete] I realised that Halstead and Pablo have already made this point, and I was repeating them.

This is false. Jacy was accused of sexual harassment at Brown, never sexual assault. Some members of this community have conflated Jacy's case with the case of another student, which for some reason shows up in google searches for Jacy's name. This is an understandable confusion, but it is a very bad confusion to continue spreading.

-1AnonEA2yNoted, thanks Tyler - that's an important distinction. I had retracted my comment anyway as the main point of it has been made elsewhere. I think my original comment still stands.

This feels like something that CEA could confirm or deny quite easily without damaging confidentiality or legal factors.

Julia Wise clarified this in her reply elsewhere in this comment section:

The accusation of sexual misconduct at Brown is one of the things that worried us at CEA. But we approached Jacy primarily out of concern about other more recent reports from members of the animal advocacy and EA communities.
-6pton2y
3kbog2yC also has the highest base rate. And to me, it seems entirely typical that an organization with the CEA's sociocultural context would punish someone this much after C. (Speaking in descriptive terms; it doesn't imply it's desirable.)

Thank you for writing this. I hope everyone involved can heal and move on.