I work at the Centre for Effective Altruism as the Community Liaison, which includes being a point person for the EA community. I’m a person you can come to with concerns about problems you’ve noticed or experienced in the EA community.

The best way to contact me is julia.wise@centreforeffectivealtruism.org. You can also contact me anonymously or schedule a call on my office hours.

Why have a point person?

People who encounter a problem in the community often don’t feel up to handling it on their own. It can be helpful to have help from someone with experience in this area and time to dedicate to the role.

Having a central point for collecting information allows patterns to be recognized. For example, imagine that three different people experience a problem from the same person. If there’s no one to collect this data, each case appears to be a one-off incident. But if someone knows about all three incidents, the nature of the problem is much clearer.

What happens with this information?

Some examples of steps I’ve taken, with help from other CEA staff and volunteers:

  • Helping friends of a community member who was experiencing a mental health crisis coordinate to better support their friend

  • Providing support to people experiencing emotional or mental health problems at EA events

  • Speaking to people about ways their behavior has made people uncomfortable or caused problems (for example, mild sexual harassment), and asking them to change their behavior

  • Restricting people from attending CEA’s events based on past serious problem behavior

  • Helping local groups and events such as EAGx conferences set up similar systems for handling community problems

My background

I’m a licensed independent clinical social worker. In the United States this requires a two-year master’s degree focusing on helping individuals and communities improve their own well-being, plus two years of supervised work experience. My focus during my master’s program was on mental health.

My experience includes:

  • Volunteering at a women’s domestic violence shelter, counseling callers to a domestic violence and sexual assault hotline, and accompanying sexual assault survivors during examinations at a hospital

  • Working in a psychiatric hospital with people in mental health crisis, and helping them plan for return to the community at the end of their stay in the hospital

  • Counseling inmates and detainees in a jail, including both survivors and perpetrators of community violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault

Social work is focused not on blame or punishment, but on reaching better outcomes by reducing risk of future harm and by connecting people with resources and support. This approach is very much the one I use in my work in the effective altruism community.

Confidentiality

If you contact me about a problem you’ve experienced or a concern you have, I will keep it as confidential as you wish. [Edited to add: I have made two mistakes on confidentiality that I know of. More info in the comment below.] Here are some possibilities:

  • You just want to vent or discuss your concern, and do not want the information to go any further

  • You are ok with me discussing an anonymized version of your concern with certain other people with your permission

  • You would like to be put in touch with other people who have experienced a similar problem (with their permission)

  • You would like me to let others know about the situation, for example the organizers of a local group where you experienced a problem

  • You would like me to speak to the person who caused a problem about their behavior

The time and stress involved in a public discussion of one’s personal experience mean that often people do not want to publicly discuss problems they have experienced. I understand this, and I don’t pressure anyone to share information any more widely than they want to.

Exceptions:

If I thought someone were in physical danger, I would act to reduce that danger. That might include breaking confidentiality. For example, if you tell me you're planning to physically hurt someone, I would warn them.

Because of the rules for social workers where I live, the only time I have a legal obligation to contact the authorities is if you bring me a concern specifically in my role as a social worker (“Julia, I’m telling you this because you’re a social worker”) AND if the concern is about

  • A child under 18 who is being abused or neglected

  • A person with an intellectual disability (mental retardation) who is being abused, or

  • A person 60 or older who is being abused.

Other options

I know people often don’t feel comfortable discussing a problem they’ve experienced with someone they don’t know well. Some communities (London, Bay Area) have local point people as well, and group organizers are another possible resource. If you have a problem and would rather not talk to me, I suggest asking if your local group has a particular contact person for community problems.

If you’re a local organizer and are interested in setting up a point person in your local group, feel free to contact me for more information about this. julia.wise@centreforeffectivealtruism.org

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5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:57 AM

I’m adding info about some mistakes I’ve made so people can be aware of my track record. While I’ll do my best to keep confidential anything you want to talk to me about privately, I can’t guarantee that I’ll never make a mistake. So far, I know of two situations where I’ve failed to maintain confidentiality.

I tally that in the 6 years I’ve been in this role, I’ve handled about 135 situations where confidentiality was implied or requested by members of the community (not counting more standard situations like internal work emails). Here are the two mistakes I know I’ve made around confidentiality:

  • Someone sent me a draft of a critique of my colleague’s book, which I agreed to keep confidential. In deciding what to do with the email chain the following week, I forgot that they had asked for confidentiality in the first message, and sent it to my colleague. You can read more detail here.
  • Someone confidentially told me about a problem in the community they had heard about. We agreed that I would look into the problem and talk to one of the people involved. In investigating the concern, I talked to some other people involved in a way that I thought was probably ok with the person who initially talked to me, but I didn’t check. They actually weren’t ok with it. I should have checked with the person to clarify whether they were ok with me investigating in a way that revealed some of the information they shared with me. It’s possible that my talking to people involved made it harder for the victim to do their own evidence-gathering about what happened.

It's very important to me that EA is a place where people trust each other, and I really regret both these mistakes.

If you know of other mistakes I’ve made that I should learn from, you can contact me at julia.wise@centreforeffectivealtruism.org, my manager, Nicole Ross, at nicole.ross@centreforeffectivealtruism.org, and/or CEA’s executive director, Max Dalton at max@centreforeffectivealtruism.org. You can also contact CEA anonymously via our contact form (which goes to our operations staff, but they can route to other staff if you request that.)

(deleted)

Thank you, Julia, for making the EA movement feel like an actual community by and for human beings.

Have you considered using a service that allows for anonymous conversations between you and the other person? This would enable you to respond to and discuss anonymous submissions. (I'm not sure this is needed – just an input.)

Sky here, with an update from CEA’s Community Health team: 

I was previously listed in this post as an additional contact person. I’m taking extended leave and will be unavailable after July 30 as a contact person. We’ve edited this post to remove my info but we want you to know who to chat with going forward:

  • Julia Wise is available as described above. She’s currently on partial parental leave and working a few hours per week. Starting August 9, she will return full-time to CEA.

Other resources:

  • For group organizers, Catherine Low is an excellent first point of contact and can help you connect with any other CEA staff or EA resources: catherine@centreforeffectivealtruism.org 
  • Nicole Ross will be working on some questions related to DEI and brand strategy and may be available to discuss those topics: nicole.ross@centreea.org
  • For advice about media inquiries or EA comms: media@centreea.org

Personal note: 

I’ve really enjoyed past conversations with many of you about topics we care about: thinking seriously and humbly about impact, media and EA communications, intercultural connections and diversity, mentorship and morale, and more. My C/EA colleagues and many of your peers are happy to hear from you on these topics too. 

I’ve been very appreciative of support from CEA colleagues and EA community members while I’ve been managing health issues over the past couple years. I see we’re in a community that wants to help each other, so I hope you do reach out if and when you need it. I’m taking some time to prioritize healthcare now and may return to C/EA as a consultant in the future. Much love in the meantime. I’ll look forward to crossing paths when we do!