A contact person for the EA community

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