The Center for Jackson Hole is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the coalition of interests dedicated to the protection of our natural world by investing in the future of their constituencies.
We achieve this mission via two main programs: SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow), an annual festival, held each autumn in Jackson Hole, that explores issues at the intersection of outdoor recreation, conservation, land management and public health; and The Emerging Leaders Program, which trains early career leaders from these stakeholder communities to help lead our work at SHIFT and in America.
Since its inception in 2013, SHIFT has evolved into a convening space that natural allies can use to address issues of common concern. Topics we’ve explored include the outdoor recreation / conservation partnership (2015); the relationship between outdoor recreation and public lands (2016); the business case for public lands (2017); and the connection between public lands and public health (2018).
Over the years, as our work evolved, we began to include voices, perspectives and priorities that had been historically excluded from the space. The Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), launched in 2016, was developed to elevate a diversity of voices and opinions, create professional opportunities and foster alliances, networks and friendships for participants. This was an important and challenging step to take, for our organization, for our stakeholder communities, and for the participants themselves most of all. With no roadmaps, we developed ELP with their assistance, for which we’ll forever be grateful. We’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, often at their expense. Most of the time, they’ve forgiven us. We’ve also seen the program evolve in promising ways.
In 2018—in part due to our programming, in part due to factors out of our control—the efforts to include a demographically representative cross-section of perspective and experience went awry.
In November, we received a letter signed by 17 individuals, predominantly participants of The 2018 Emerging Leaders Program, that called for our Executive Director, Christian Beckwith, to resign. The authors asserted, among other things, that Mr. Beckwith’s lack of formal training on issues related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) had impacted the psychological health and wellbeing of some of this year’s ELPers.
We responded promptly to the letter’s authors with this acknowledgement, and, after much internal work, an official letter of response. We did not receive acknowledgement from the authors that either of our letters had been received.
We handled this work internally, communicating directly with the authors of the letters as we went to work addressing some of their core issues. It has been brought to our attention that a selection of these letters was published online without context on April 6th. As a result, we’re sharing our experiences with the larger community here to provide some of the missing context as well as to update folks on how we’re moving forward. We also believe the experience has learning value for those interested in undertaking similar work.
Mr. Beckwith has taken responsibility for his impact. He wrote an apology, the release of which the Board, in respecting the wishes of these participants not to be contacted, chose to delay until now. On behalf of our entire organization, we join Mr. Beckwith in apologizing to those hurt by our programming. We’re sorry.
In his efforts to improve his understanding of issues related to JEDI and HR, Mr. Beckwith continues to undertake trainings with our full support, commitment, and mutual accountability. As an organization, we’ve spent the months since last year’s SHIFT incorporating the experiences and feedback of participants, both good and bad, into our work.
Dr. Morgan Green, an alumnus of the 2018 ELP, now serves as the program’s Director; his leadership, including the creation of an ELP Advisory Council to help guide him in his efforts, has already started taking shape. Our organization is now comprised of more than 50% ELP alumni: since the start of the year, four more ELP alumni have joined our board.
We’re also working collectively to incorporate JEDI into our organizational culture, structure, and our programming. Our upcoming retreat is designed to internalize and operationalize our core values as they relate to, among other mission-critical components of our work, social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion.
For the past two years, we’ve been working on a plan to transfer leadership of The Center for Jackson Hole to Emerging Leaders. This effort—which began in earnest, as reported on our blog, during our 2018 retreat—was initiated and has been guided by Mr. Beckwith. We’ve made progress, and are on track to achieve our goal of an ELP-led organization in a responsible and timely manner, not solely for the benefit of the organization but for the responsibility we feel to the field.
The campaign calling for Mr. Beckwith’s resignation coincides with the close of the application period for 2019 ELP. It does not acknowledge our response to the initial letter, Mr. Beckwith’s personal work or the work we’ve done organizationally since last year’s SHIFT to improve. It also omits the larger context from which it originates.
We remain in support of Mr. Beckwith’s position within the organization, especially considering the investment he, alongside the rest of our team, has made in learning from our experiences and responding to them with advanced training and humility.
Our ongoing support for Mr. Beckwith is not simply to protect ourselves from being held accountable when we fail—we must be held accountable if we are to learn from our experiences, improve with subsequent attempts, and align our intent with our impact. It is because we feel it’s critical to establish an important precedent for others who might contemplate similar work, but who, upon learning of our experiences, are dissuaded from doing so for fear that their actions could be framed, out of the larger context, in a way that is fundamentally wrong.
The calls for Mr. Beckwith’s resignation are misrepresentative of our intent, our objectives, our acknowledgment of mistakes, our apologies and our efforts to improve. In our November response, we affirmed our commitment to his leadership. We reaffirm that commitment now.
The Center for Jackson Hole Board of Directors:
Len Necefer, Chair