[last updated December 2022]

We, Julia Wise and Catherine Low, work on the community health team at the Centre for Effective Altruism. Part of our work is being contact people for problems or concerns you encounter in the EA community. This is one part of the team’s larger work.

Ways to contact us:

  • the community health contact form (can be anonymous)
  • Julia’s form (can be anonymous)
  • Catherine’s form (can be anonymous)
  • julia.wise@centreforeffectivealtruism.org
  • catherine@centreforeffectivealtruism.org 

Why have point people?

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 kinds of situations can we help with?

Some types of work we’ve done:

  • Helping friends of a community member who was experiencing a mental health crisis coordinate to better support their friend
  • Advising group organizers on handling conflicts and other problems in their groups
  • 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

Our backgrounds

Julia:

I’m a licensed independent clinical social worker, with studies and work that focused on mental health. I got involved in EA around 2010 and joined CEA to work on supporting the EA community in 2015.

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
  • 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.

Catherine:

I was a high school teacher for 11 years before moving full time into EA community building. I ran local and national EA groups and worked on EA outreach projects ,  before joining CEA’s Groups Team in early 2020 to support EA groups worldwide. I started working for the Community Health team mid 2021. 

Confidentiality

If you contact us about a problem you’ve experienced or a concern you have, we will keep it as confidential as you wish. [Edited to add: Julia has made two mistakes on confidentiality that she knows of. More info in this comment.] 

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 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 us to let others know about the situation, for example the organizers of a local group where you experienced a problem
  • You would like us to speak to the person who caused a problem about their behavior
  • You want to report a problem to us, but don’t want us to take action unless other people also raise the same problem 

We will sometimes offer to discuss with you the possible actions we could take with differing levels of confidentiality, so you can make a well informed decision.

We will sometimes ask if we can share your case with the other community support person so we can get the benefit of their advice.

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 was in physical danger, we would act to reduce that danger. That might include breaking confidentiality. For example, if you tell us you're planning to physically hurt someone, we would warn them.

For Catherine only:

In addition, if Catherine thought someone was at risk of serious mental harm, she would act to reduce that harm.  

For Julia only:

Because of the rules for social workers where Julia lives, the only time she has a legal obligation to contact the authorities is if you bring her a concern specifically in her 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

We’re not the only options for help in the community. For problems that arise in an EA group, it may be helpful to talk to the organizers of that group.

If you’re a group organizer or online moderator and would like help preparing to handle community problems or handling a problem that has already arisen, feel free to contact us.


 

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5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:45 PM

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.

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!


 

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.)