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Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Eric. 

I agree that being part of the social justice movement can be compatible with supporting free expression, and I added a note in my post to clarify that. 

Speaking as an insider, I can explicitly say that ACE, as an organization, did not intend in any way to cancel this speaker in the sense that you mean here.

That's a relief to hear, but it also seems hard to reconcile with the public Facebook post. ACE wrote (emphasis mine): 

In fact, asking our staff to participate in an event where a person who had made such harmful statements would be in attendance, let alone presenting, would be a violation of our own anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. Naturally, we want to abide by our own policy and support our staff in feeling comfortable in all of their workspaces, including the online sphere of virtual conferences and Facebook forums.

We took the initiative to contact CARE’s organizers to discuss our concern, exchanging many thoughtful messages and making significant attempts to find a compromise. We view our dialogue as healthy, productive, and collaborative, and we are grateful for CARE’s openness to and participation in our conversation.

Unfortunately, despite our joint efforts—and despite the fact that the presenter in question chose to rescind his own speaking engagement for reasons of which we are not aware—we ultimately decided on Monday to withdraw our ACE representatives

The post really does suggest that ACE didn't want this person speaking at the conference, and contacted CARE seeking some type of concession. 

But this might make sense in light of what you say here: 

In particular, ACE's statement erred on the side of taking responsibility as an organization for the actions of its employees. I think this is generally good practice. But it gave an impression that ACE was trying to deplatform someone, when that is not what was going on at all. I think that the communications aspect of this situation could have been much better handled.

Is the implication here that some ACE staff member(s), but not ACE as an organization, attempted to cancel this speaker's talk? Clarifying this would be helpful. 

After they learned that the facebook commenter in question would be on a panel talking about BLM, they indicated to ACE leadership that they felt unsafe going to the conference, and they pulled out. ACE then had no choice but to allow them to do this. There was no capacity to replace them with other speakers. ACE had to inform CARE that they were withdrawing.

I wouldn't expect an organization to force staff to speak at a conference they're uncomfortable attending. But my main concern here was that ACE contacted CARE organizers to voice concerns (and ask for some type of concession) and wrote a public post that heavily implied the conference organizers did something wrong by inviting this person to speak.

I'm also somewhat concerned that all three ACE employees scheduled to speak withdrew. I think that, combined with some other information available, suggests there's a bit of an intellectual monoculture at ACE surrounding DEI issues. 

Regarding the alleged penalization in charity reviews, you say: 

While your words here are technically correct, putting it like this is very misleading. Without breaking confidentiality, let me state unequivocally that if an organization had employees who had really bad views on DEI, that would be, in itself, insufficient for ACE to downgrade them from top to standout charity status. This doesn't mean it isn't a factor; it is. But the actions discussed in this EA forum thread would be insufficient on their own to cause ACE to make such a downgrade.

I'm a bit confused how to interpret this. 

 Does this mean an organization receiving a "Weak" rating on Leadership and Culture  caused by DEI concerns couldn't be given a lower status compared to the same organization with a "Strong" rating? 

Or would bad views on DEI not be enough by itself to give a charity a "Weak" rating there? 

Or am I misunderstanding something about ACE's charity review process? 

I think it would be helpful for ACE to clarify this. 

Note that I didn't mean to imply that Anima would have received "Top" status if it weren't for comments from leadership on DEI.

Regarding movement grants:

While this is true as stated, it is not as inappropriate as it sounds here. The text you pulled is from ACE Movement Grants, which is completely separate from the evaluations used for top and standout charities. This is relevant because the entire point of ACE Movement Grants is to foster the movement to become bigger and better through increased resiliency, and this includes being inclusive.

Thanks for raising the distinction; I edited the post to make it more clear. This still seems like harmful policy to me. Even if the overall goal of the grants is to make the movement stronger (including by becoming more inclusive), it's plausible that there could be some really promising projects from people/groups who don't fully align with ACE on DEI.

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comment. There's a lot that I don't have time to thoroughly unpack, but I'll share my thoughts briefly. I'll mostly address the EAA FB thread and ACE's CARE conference withdrawal. I'll make edits to the original post where I feel it's appropriate. 

The comments in question are undeniably inflammatory - they started a multi-hundred comment argument in a Facebook group, which as far as I know is the only thread that the moderators of that group have locked (at least in recent memory). There were also dozens of people in that thread, all of whom strongly thought that the person in question and others were being harmful, so your sense of the overton window for EAA discussion (given that the forum is the main platform for EAA discussion) seems like it is miscalibrated.

Note that I was only referring here to comments from the scheduled CARE speaker. I think there were some other critical commenters who were being fairly rude and  unreasonable. It looks like there was one other person on Anima's leadership team participating in the thread, but I think her comments were also generally respectful and not inappropriate. 

As you state, the EAA Facebook group is generally pro-social justice. And I think that because Facebook isn't an anonymous platform, there's a fairly strong bias toward socially-desired positions. In this case, that means supporting Encompass and the emphasizing racial equity in the animal advocacy movement. Those who disagree are probably less likely to comment or react to others' comments. 

For example, when I read that thread I was uncomfortable with the way some of the pro-Encompass commenters in that thread were behaving, but I decided not to say anything, especially since some them commenters were being quite rude and making personal attacks toward those who wrote critical comments. I think the views that the two Anima leaders expressed in that thread should  be within the overton window of EAA discourse, and the fact that so many people apparently think otherwise concerns me.    

Someone called Encompass a hate group (which as a side note, it definitely is not). The Anima Executive Director in question liked this comment.

I think that comment was highly inappropriate and is the type of thing I'd like to avoid in these discussions. I didn't realize the planned speaker 'liked' that comment and that updates me towards him behaving badly and having worse views than I thought. I'll edit the post to indicate that. But this doesn't really change my overall assessment ACE's behavior here. (Note: as far as I can tell the person who actually wrote the comment isn't affiliated with Anima)

Someone called our world "a color-blind society" (which again, it definitely  is not). The Animal Executive Director in question liked this comment.

I think the comment was a bit more nuanced than that; I've reproduced it here:

 I am eager for an end to racial discrimination in a color blind society, but we have essentially already achieved this. Tot the extent there remains a few small issues, then we can focus on those issues specifically. I don't think this will help.

Edit: I would like to add a little more uncertainty about the truth of my view than I expressed in my initial comment. Because I feel a stronger uncertainty after the discussions so far, and I think it is only right that people know this without having to read the entire thread. Maybe it would be more true to say there is some anti-black racism still in the West, although I do not believe it is systemic. The U.S is very divided, so in parts of the country, I believe you can find it still to a significant degree in people, including some in positions of power. But in more liberal-dominated places, including the AR movement, I do believe it is all but gone, and if anything, it is reversed. How much exactly there is in different places, I am happy to learn more about by looking (critically of course) at more data and evidence.

I don't agree with this comment, but I think it's respectful enough and it makes an empirical claim that deserves serious scrutiny rather than immediate dismissal. I don't think it should be considered beyond-the-pale, and I'm not too worried that two of Anima's leaders 'liked' it. (Note: as far as I can tell the person who wrote this comment also isn't affiliated with Anima)

The Anima Executive Director posted a comment saying that this issue is not related to animals (which doesn't seem particularly reasonable since Encompass is a group that specifically works on race issues at animal advocacy organizations, and the training was for animal advocates).

The event was titled "How White Vegans Can Support Anti-Racist Efforts". While it was directed at vegans, I think it's reasonable to question its usefulness and relevancy to animal advocacy. Suppose someone posted an event about how vegans can improve global health by supporting the Against Malaria Foundation. Even though I support AMF, I think it would be reasonable to post a comment questioning the importance of animal advocates devoting resources to that issue. I'm pretty worried that some people in EAA find this type of criticism unacceptable. 

The CARE Conference schedule came out, and said ED was speaking on a panel about Black Lives Matter and diversity in the movement.

This was a red-flag to ACE (and probably should have been to many people), since the ED had both liked some pretty inflammatory / harmful statements, and was speaking on a topic they clearly had both very strong and controversial views on, regarding which they had previously picked fights on.

I don't think it's a problem that he was scheduled to speak about Black Lives Matter (but I think this is an important detail, so I'll add it to the main post). I think it's unlikely that his views on BLM would be harmful enough for his presence on the panel to be a big concern. And I don't think leaders of organizations should be afraid of respectfully participating in online discussions, even if they hold an unpopular or controversial viewpoint. 

One, you thinking that what feels safe for you is a good test of what ought to feel safe for other people is obviously wrong. If we have different life experiences, the things that make us feel unsafe are bound to be different. In this case, there is a group that does advocacy on behalf of non-white people in the animal space. Someone called them a hate group, and a speaker on a panel about diversity in the movement endorsed that comment. It is entirely reasonable for someone to feel unsafe in response to this.

I think you're mostly right here, and I chose my words poorly. I think ACE's speakers probably did feel unsafe speaking at the conference, and I should have instead said there was no actual safety risk. As you said, people might feel unsafe or unwelcome for a variety of reasons, not all of which are perfectly rational (and that's okay!). Someone with severe social anxiety, for example, might understandably feel unwelcome or unsafe at any large gathering. But I think there's a limit to how much conference organizers should accommodate these types of safety concerns, and I think it was wrong of ACE to ask CARE organizers to (presumably) stop him from speaking. 

The speaker also voluntarily withdrew from the panel. You insinuate that they would have been barred, but there isn't evidence that would have happened (though to be clear, I think it would have been perfectly reasonable to remove this person from a panel on diversity issues given their history of engagement on it being confrontational).

My claim was that ACE attempted to get the speaker barred, which I think is a reasonable takeaway from the public post.  I don't have a strong view on whether the attempt would have been successful had he not voluntarily withdrawn. 

This section severely downplays that the staff in question were both country-level Executive Directors of Anima, and were in senior leadership roles.

Fair enough, I'll edit the post to clarify. 

 I could see this going either way - maybe the lack of representation of non-white people in the animal movement is a weakness that is making it less effective.

I don't think there's a huge tradeoff between norms of openness and freedom of expression and norms of being pro-DEI. I think some pro-social justice people take this position, but they should be more explicit about it. 

I think a lot of people are concerned about both EA's lack of demographic diversity (including diversity along racial/ethnic lines) and the potential spread of the toxic discussion norms and poor epistemic standards common within many social justice communities. To the extent there may be a tradeoff, I think having EA-style epistemic norms is much more important than demographic diversity, but this might be a point of disagreement. 

This just seems like pure fear-mongering. There is no evidence this is happening, and it is really dismissive of funders' and grantmakers' ability to evaluate projects. If I am making a grant, and it is an animal program, obviously I'm going to think about the impact on animals. 

I haven't seen evidence of this happening in EA, but I think it's reasonable to be risk-averse here. I think ACE isn't skeptical enough of groups that position themself as being social justice activists (as opposed to purely animal focused/EA). 

This is again, equally true in both directions. I can say right now as someone who is fairly social-justice sympathetic that I'm not very comfortable writing my opinions on the EA Forum about these things, despite them being (I believe), pretty rational, well-reasoned opinions. And I'm a white man.

I think I largely agree with you here. One thing I don't think I communicated very well is that I'm not opposed to social justice, and I definitely don't think EA should position itself as "Anti-social justice" or anything like that. What I'm really opposed to is the really bad discussion norms and lack of intellectual rigor in many social justice spaces, and I'm starting to see some of this creep up in the EAA community. I think the norms in a lot of anti-social justice spaces are also really bad, and I wouldn't to see those enter EA either. 

I don't like that you feel uncomfortable writing opinions on the EA forum. I think the knee-jerk negative reaction some people have towards anything related to social justice ideas isn't good. Though I think this is less of a concern than on the EA Facebook groups, where anonymous participation isn't possible. 

Overall, your comment updated me towards ACE's position and made them seem less unreasonable than I initially thought. However, I think my characterization of ACE's behavior was mostly accurate, and I still think they were behaving quite badly 

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

Hi Ben, thanks for your comment.

I don't think ACE's review of Anima supports this interpretation at all.

The review does mention the leadership transition under Criterion 5: Leadership and Culture:

Anima International had a recent transition in leadership. Kirsty Henderson took the role of Acting CEO in April 2020, after being elected by the managing board of Anima International. Their new leadership describes the transition as an opportunity to re-evaluate their goals, structure, work, and values, through frequent communication with staff about the transition process and challenges. Henderson is requesting more in-depth feedback from staff members and having one-to-one meetings with all of them to learn more about who they are and how they see Anima International’s work. In the next few months, a new CEO will be elected. We are yet to see how successful the leadership transition turns out.

But ACE doesn't give any indication that it thginks the leadership transition or firing of the previous CEO is a bad thing. Additionally, when the review cites results from the culture survey, the results generally seem quite positive.  And the review's overall assessment of culture and morale appears positive: 

Overall, we think that Anima International’s staff satisfaction and morale are higher than the average charity we evaluated this year.

However, when it comes to Anima leadership's comments on DEI, ACE paints a negative picture, stating:

In particular, we think leadership staff publicly engaging in conversations about the relevance of racial equity to the animal advocacy movement may have had a negative impact on the progress of racial equity in the movement

And ACE concludes the section by saying 

Overall, we believe that Anima International is less diverse, equitable, and inclusive than the average charity we evaluated this year. 

This is despite the culture survey results related to DEI generally being quite positive. 

And in the weaknesses section of the review summary, ACE states:

We think Anima International’s leadership has a limited understanding of racial equity and that this has impacted some of the spaces they contribute to as an international animal advocacy group—such as coalitions, conferences, and online forums

But doesn't mention anything related to firing the CEO or leadership transitions.

So based on the review, I would be quite surprised if firing the previous CEO played a larger role in ACE's evaluation of Anima than public comments from staff related to DEI. And if it did, then I think ACE did a poor job indicating that in the review.  

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

Hi Will, thanks for your comment.

The idea of sending a draft to ACE didn't occur to me until I was nearly finished writing the post. I didn't like the idea of dwelling on the post for much longer, especially given some time commitments I have in the coming weeks.

Though to be honest, I don't think this reason is very good, and upon reflection I suspect I should have send a draft to ACE before posting to clear up any misunderstandings.