SHIFT hits the fan: ED Beckwith accused of creating ‘racially hostile’ environment

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – A coalition of 17 individuals who took part in the 2018 Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) and SHIFT in Jackson Hole are calling for the resignation of executive director Christian Beckwith amid accusations of racism.

Christian Beckwith (SHIFTjh)

A group organizing its complaints on Medium.com under the banner Won’t take SHIFT anymore has made numerous accusations centering around Beckwith and both the ELP and SHIFT programs this past fall. Allegations like “racial violence,” “trauma,” “unsafe and toxic environment” were levied against Beckwith but with few specific examples cited.

In response, the Center for Jackson Hole (ELP/SHIFT) board sent a letter signed by chair Len Necefer to the coalition stating their continued support of Beckwith but announcing he would have a reduced role in the ELP program. Beckwith, himself, also penned a letter of apology for what he says were “missteps, mistakes and failures” caused by his own “ignorance.”

Jasmine Stammes (the Conservation Fund)

Allegations against Beckwith are somewhat abstruse. For instance, one letter from Jasmine Stammes stated she felt people of color were tailed by police while in Jackson (a town with 94% white demographic, she further pointed out) and subjected to “a song about slaves by white men in karaoke on a night out.” She described her attendance at SHIFT as “profoundly negative” and “a toxic and negative experience.”

Fellow attendee Sarah Shimazaki added, “There aren’t enough words to describe the pain, exhaustion, anger, sadness, powerlessness and fear I’ve experienced since my very first interaction with Christian Beckwith, months before the SHIFT festival even began.”

Len Necefer, board chair for Center for Jackson Hole. (Center for Jackson Hole)

According to eyewitnesses, one woman broke down in tears, suffering a panic attack after learning Beckwith—who admits to growing up in a mostly white culture of the New England area—had no formal DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) training.

SHIFT representatives issued the following statement recently:

“If you participated in SHIFT in 2018, you may have noticed tensions around issues of social justice. In the weeks that followed, a letter calling for the resignation of our Executive Director Christian Beckwith was sent to our board by 17 individuals, many of whom participated in The Emerging Leaders Program. We responded in a timely and responsible manner and heard nothing more.”

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