A contact person for the EA community

byJulia_Wise1y12th Jan 20182 comments

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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.

As of January 2019, Sky Mayhew has also joined the Community Health team. The best way to contact us is julia.wise@centreforeffectivealtruism.org or sky@centreforeffectivealtruism.org. You can also contact Julia anonymously.

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.

You can contact me, Sky, or both of us if you'd like to discuss a problem.

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

Sky’s background

Sky previously worked in higher education and as a nationally certified American Sign Language and English interpreter. She has training in interpersonal and intercultural conflict resolution and communication. This led her to roles as an advisor and contact person in her field, supporting students, colleagues, and community members in sensitive situations. To maintain her teaching skills and national interpreter certification, she also completes continuing education requirements where she focuses on topics like mentoring skills, trauma-informed services, supporting positive identity development (cultural, racial/ethnic, gender, etc), and professional ethics.

Sky’s community health experience includes:

  • Serving as a trained point of contact for peers who experienced sexual harassment or assault, domestic violence, abuse, or suicidal thoughts; volunteering for a sexual assault hotline
  • Providing coaching to individuals in conflict — from individuals seeking to improve their own professional or personal behaviors to those experiencing or perpetuating discrimination or harassment.
  • Advising organizations that want to reach more community members by improving accessibility at their programs or events
  • Co-facilitating Diversity Circles, a program to increase collaboration on shared goals between community members of differing religions, sexual orientations, race/ethnicities, gender identities, educational and economic backgrounds.

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. Sky sees her work as an interpreter and educator in the same way. This approach is very much the one we use in our work in the effective altruism community.

Confidentiality

If you contact one of us about a problem you’ve experienced or a concern you have, we will keep it as confidential as you wish. 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 one of us 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 one of us to let others know about the situation, for example the organizers of a local group where you experienced a problem

  • You would like someone 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. We understand this, and we don’t pressure anyone to share information any more widely than they want to.

Exceptions:

If we thought someone were in physical danger, we 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.

Because of the laws where Sky lives, she is required to contact authorities if she receives a report of:

  • Abuse or neglect of a child
  • Abuse or neglect of a “vulnerable adult” (anyone 18 years and over who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for their daily needs)

Options besides talking to us

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 or Sky, 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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