Teton Science Schools is cutting ties with an organization that’s in the hot seat for its treatment of people of color.
Following concerns about Executive Director Christian Beckwith’s leadership of the SHIFT conference’s Emerging Leaders Program, Teton Science Schools announced Friday afternoon that it will not renew its contract with the program for 2019.
“Inclusion is a core value of TSS and we strive to be learner-centered in all of our programs,” Chris Agnew, executive director of TSS, said in a release Friday afternoon. “We apologize for the trauma that was inflicted by the Emerging Leaders Program. TSS is committed to centering and amplifying the voices of leaders of marginalized identities as they address issues of social and environmental justice.”
Since 2016, the Center for Jackson Hole has contracted with Teton Science Schools to host and facilitate the Emerging Leaders Program, abbreviated as ELP. The goal was to “provide a space for leaders in the conservation movement to come together, learn from each other, engage with topics central to the SHIFT festival, and form a community that can support and amplify each others’ impact,” the release reads.
It goes on further to say that “microaggressions and identity-based traumas are detrimental to the health and well-being of individuals and communities. TSS has a deep commitment to managing risk in physical and social landscapes. Identity-based trauma is a programmatic risk that must be appropriately managed and mitigated.”
Agnew told the Jackson Hole Daily that an evaluation of the partnership, which occurs for all organizations TSS works with, began in November.
“Through that monthslong process we recognized that the relationship structure with the Center for Jackson Hole did not support this inclusive and productive learning environment that’s our commitment to our students,” Agnew said. “We are a learner-centered institution and part of that is listening to feedback that we incorporated through our decision making through this winter and has [been] amplified recently.”
Agnew got involved in the decision in January. Although a social media campaign called “Won’t Take SHIFT Anymore” brought recent light to the issues, he said the “driving decider was not communication, say, in the last week.”
An April 6 post on Medium.com published by former participants in the Emerging Leaders Program and former SHIFT staff members included a letter saying Beckwith was ill-equipped to head the program that creates leadership opportunities for marginalized communities in conservation and outdoor recreation.
The letter was originally sent Nov. 8 to the SHIFT board of directors.
“Mr. Beckwith’s leadership has caused irreparable harm that continues to haunt many ELP and SHIFT participants long after the programs have concluded,” the letter read.
The letter details interactions Beckwith had with program participants that were trauma-inducing, the group says, stemming from his lack of formal diversity, equity and inclusion training.
“The emotional labor that was expected of people of color participating in these programs was extractive and felt physically and emotionally harmful,” the letter states.
The SHIFT board responded in December, when it told the group it would review letters decrying and supporting Beckwith. It also said it would determine areas for improvement. On April 12, the SHIFT board posted a letter that detailed areas to be improved, and Beckwith published a letter of apology. The board is still backing him.
“We’re one of the earliest organizations to integrate DEI issues into the outdoor recreation and conservation space,” Beckwith said in an interview this week with the Jackson Hole News&Guide. “There’s not a lot of road maps. I don’t have the lived experience of these folks.”
— Tom Hallberg contributed
to this report.