April 18, 2019
On April 6th a coalition comprised of 17 Emerging Leader Program participants—an initiative started by the non-profit The Center for Jackson Hole that focuses on creating leadership opportunities for underrepresented communities in conservation and outdoor recreation—launched a campaign called “Won’t Take Shift Anymore.”
In this Medium post, they included a letter that detailed accusations that SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow) Executive Director Christian Beckwith was ill-equipped to head the program and created a racially hostile and unsafe environment. They called for Beckwith to resign.
In response, the Center for Jackson Hole (ELP/SHIFT) existing Board of Directors (three have resigned in response to Beckwith not stepping down) sent a letter signed by chair Len Necefer to the coalition reaffirming their continued support of Beckwith and announcing he would have a reduced role in the ELP program. In a comprehensive article from SNEWS, it was reported that the board has a plan to successfully transition Beckwith out and turn over leadership to someone better equipped—ideally a former ELP participant. Beckwith, also issued a letter of apology for what he says were “missteps, mistakes and failures” caused by his own “ignorance.” SHIFT has since hired a new Director of the Emerging Leaders Program, Dr. Morgan Green. The steps the organization is taking to address the concerns of the collective is described in detail in this letter from the Board of Directors.
While this may seem very industry-specific, this discourse extends far outside of SHIFT. The Won’t Take Shift Anymore coalition is ushering in topics that are long overdue for a deep examination by anyone who shares a love of the outdoors.
According to Sarah Shimazaki, an official representative of Won’t Take Shift Anymore, what we are seeing is a microcosm of what marginalized communities have experienced and continue to experience. “We’re at a point where organizations in the industry and elsewhere recognize that we have a diversity program.” The demographics of outdoor participants are changing and there is a strategic and/or moral imperative to ensure that these communities feel included and represented.
However, she continued, we have come to a point where people recognize the issues and then it stops there. “These white-led organizations haven’t done anything to change the culture of whiteness so that when they bring on a person of color or someone from a marginalized community they feel safe. That’s the equity piece. When you bring those people in do they have equal say or are you just bringing them on to check a box? I think that’s why this resonates with so many people,” Shimazaki said. When people are sharing what happens to them, like in the case of Won’t Take Shift Anymore, they are sharing their own personal experiences of tokenization or cultural appropriation or blatant racism in white-dominated industries. Shimazaki believes that the outdoor industry is fairly unequipped and unwilling to truly address real DEI (Diversity Equity Inclusion) work. Acknowledging your privilege, incorporating thorough DEI training, and changing the leadership structure is imperative, she said.
When asked if there was a middle ground, Shimazaki responded, “The Board Of Directors keeps talking about how this is a learning journey and I really think a huge part of a learning journey is learning when to take a step back. I don’t know if there is a middle ground.”
And there may not be. The Board of Directors of SHIFT has stated repeatedly that they take this issue seriously and are investing the resources into ensuring that people feel safe and heard. Won’t Take Shift Anymore says it's not enough.
Despite both sides holding their ground firmly, and the communities they represent feeling very differently about the path forward, we have to acknowledge the power of technology. Platforms like Instagram and Medium are allowing people who have traditionally been silenced have the ability to take to share their stories and activate their communities. In some ways, it is allowing for an equalization of power and the democratization of information. There is a way to reclaim your story and manifest your agency in a way that wasn’t available to people just a handful of years ago. Won’t Take Shift Anymore is exposing issues that the mainstream outdoor industry (and arguably participants) have not been made aware of for myriad reasons. This is powerful and positive. It’s also difficult and uncomfortable.
“For the longest time we didn’t feel like we had a voice,” Shimazaki said. “And considering we do have those platforms available we’ve been fairly quiet up until now trying to figure out a solution. We didn't come to it immediately or lightly.”
There also is a responsibility to engage respectfully, but depending on who you talk to, that also is up for debate. The subtext to this particular story—and perhaps a completely different story altogether—is what happens when complex conversations unfold on social media. From public posts on Instagram to private groups on Facebook, men of color and women have been called upon to leverage their following to make people aware of the SHIFT/ELP issue. People reported not feeling comfortable sharing or sharing in the way that was being asked of them, to which they were told they were upholding white supremacy and misogyny. This has led to charges of bullying and divisiveness.
There also is significant disagreement over what is a stronger and more effective tactic—calling in or calling out? Furthermore, the individuals who are at the core of this issue have been met with hostility and anger. (It's important to note that white men, for the most part, have been essentially left out of this conversation, which is a disappointing missed opportunity to engage the very individuals who arguably still hold the majority of the power.)
Shimazaki said that Won’t Take Shift Anymore has tried to stay true and honest to their story as much as possible and that the Medium page is at the center of their operations. “If and when we do witness someone saying something that is a bit out of line with our story and/or not a tactic we agree with, we've been able to compassionately reach out to those folks privately and remind them what our goals, strategies, and tactics are,” she said. “We want our campaign to model the transparency, accountability, and honesty that we're asking SHIFT to uphold.”
Shimazaki continued, “I don’t want people to think that we are canceling all white folk who are on a DEI journey. It’s about holding someone accountable who has caused a lot of harm to people. When you harm so many people you need to take a step back and think about the consequences of your actions on other people.” Unfortunately, what has played out on social media has left people wondering what role they can and want to play.
Necefer and Jose González (another well-respected industry leader and SHIFT board member) addressed this in the SNEWS article written by Amelia Arveson, stating that while the discourse needs to continue and solutions identified, "they don't believe social media is the best place to do it, as it can easily lead to feelings, concerns, and action of cyberbullying and turn away allies and prospective allies on all sides—which paralyzes the conversation."
Despite the divergence on tactics, this is an opportunity to embrace the richness and importance of the conversations that are unfolding an industry that has never been forced to face these issues head-on. It's also an opportunity to consider how we engage in these types of conversations. You can explore this issue further by following updates on the Won't Take Shift Anymore Medium page, following the hashtag #wontakeshiftanymore on Instagram, and reading this article from SNEWS.