Retreats [? · GW]—described by [EA(p) · GW(p)] Leilani Bellamy of the new EA org Canopy Retreats [EA · GW] as "a gathering of people with a common interest or goal, all sharing space over the course of a weekend or a week"—are increasing in popularity within university groups [EA · GW], local groups [EA · GW], and EA orgs. They typically involve presentations, group and 1-1 discussions, and bonding activities, and they sometimes produce tangible outputs.
I worry that the term "retreat" also contributes to optics issues because it (1) implies opulence (e.g. "wellness retreats"), (2) harkens to religious retreats and may increase "cult" vibes [EA · GW], and (3) doesn't actually capture the work that occurs (i.e. when I've said I'm going on a retreat, friends have assumed I'm on vacation).
I agree that we should call them something other than retreats, especially because of points 1) and points 3) - lots of people in the EA community basically don't understand that a full day of "retreat" causes the same level of exhaustion as a full day of EAG.
I think that what we currently call retreats seem diverse enough that the events might deserve entirely different names. Organisers could put more care into choosing a term, on a case-by-case basis, that accurately sets expectations. Some retreats I've heard of do appear to entail spending a few days in the countryside forming better bonds within a group. In that case, calling it a "retreat" would be reasonable.
"Conference" is widely used by the academic and professional community to describe these types of events. It doesn't really have much baggage associated with it, and avoids much of the "vacation" connotation.
I’ve also had similar thoughts, but haven’t really thought about alternative names until now. Still, I’m not quickly thinking of obviously-great alternatives. Perhaps “EA Workshops” or “Seminars”?
Having said that, it’s worth pointing out that although “retreats” can often be used in religious contexts, there is plenty of usage in the sense of “corporate retreats.” So ultimately the label may not be that bad, it’s more a matter of how it’s framed and whether it involves a lot of people who are new to/unfamiliar with EA.
I think you get that vibe because, in Spanish, the word seminario can mean both seminar ("an occasion in which a group of people meet to study and discuss something") and seminary ("a college for training people to become priests").
I have never heard of "seminar" having a lot of religious overtones (but I'm in North America).
(Speaking from a North American perspective) "seminar" has some negative properties if you’re trying to describe a meeting where a lot of value comes from interactions between participants:
It gives connotations of teaching and being "didactive" (getting knowledge instructed to you by an authority).
In North America, there are also unlikeable hucksters that call things "seminars" (so just borrowing the name is bad if it’s not genuinely a lecture or instruction, there can be sort of an “uncanny valley” of “bad vibes”)
To me, summit feels a bit too grand and “culminatory” (or whatever the word is), either because I think of summits bringing together disparate groups of people (e.g., from different universities/countries) or at the end of some project.
For multiple people who have been brainstorming to replace the word "retreat" for many months, the word "summit" actually grants a particularly desirable culminating spirit.
One common problem reported by organizers is that students are far from being ambitious enough in their summer, extracurricular, and post-graduation plans. The ubiquity of this observation leads myself and others to want to choose very deliberately exciting and forceful words. "Summit" has remained a good option in my mind and in the minds of a few other student organizers after almost a year of thinking about this issue because it makes the event seem more ambitious―more serious. In turn, this kind of environment makes students take themselves more seriously.
It is important to highlight that a student demographic audience is the dispositive quality in this situation that makes me insist on the above.
My favourite thing about using the word retreat (that also comes with the downside of point 2) is a sense of intentional community building that other terms like workshop and summit don't capture. On top of this, it seems pretty clear that EAs relate to and run retreats quite differently from the average person. My sense is that we might run into similar issues with any other term we pick, e.g. parties at a 'workshop' or intense work rooms at a 'team-building event'.
It might be worth coining a new term similar to how we have made EAG/x a common word instead of relying solely on the word 'conference'. I don't have any meaningful creative inputs on this yet, but the low bar would probably be something along the lines of EA___.
Strong agree with the connotation of retreat being associated with leisure/opulence and that this is an optics issue. I think this is hard to answer in the abstract and the event should probably just pick a name that corresponds to what is happening. E.g., AI governance learning weekend; EA [City] community gathering weekend; etc