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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org