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I Am Leaving US Chess
I have resigned from US Chess and as of Sept 7, will no longer serve as director of the US Chess Women’s Program that I started four years ago.
Prior to my work with US Chess Women, I launched US Chess’s online magazine, CLO, where I wrote, edited, and assigned many hundreds of chess-related articles. I chaired the organizing committee for the first five and hosted the first ten US Championships and US Women’s Championships held in St. Louis, which brought the conditions and competition to a new level of prestige.
The Women’s Committee at US Chess inspired me to fundraise for a Women’s Program when I learned about their girls club room, and I’m grateful to them and to the many US Chess staff and volunteers who’ve supported me.
I’ve loved hosting hundreds of girls and women’s chess events, including sessions with Judit Polgar and Garry Kasparov. Many of these events brought in girls from all over the World, from Kenya to Colombia, showing the power of chess to connect us. The US Chess Women grant program reached thousands of girls at non profits across the country and I spoke about our work in speeches and panels from Harvard and MIT to the Bank of America. I passed on the message of women, chess, and empowerment via numerous venues including Vanity Fair, CBS News, NPR, Forbes, Jeopardy, The Times, NBC and the New York Times. I wrote an award-winning WSJ op-ed on women in chess, exec produced two acclaimed videos on US Chess Events for the New Yorker and the Atlantic, and hosted four years of Ladies Knight. Most recently, I spoke to CNN International about FIDE’s cruel restrictions on transgender players, and I’m so happy that US Chess’s policy contradicts theirs.
Sadly, I leave with heavy concerns. After I went public in February with a viral tweet about being assaulted by a prominent Grandmaster, things escalated quickly. More women came forward to me and a Wall Street Journal article, “How Allegations Against a U.S. Grandmaster Went Unaddressed for Years” dropped on International Women’s Day. You can read a particularly detailed account of the timeline and institutional failures—in lichess’s “Breaking the Silence” as well as a subsequent WSJ piece on the fallout. One of the most alarming facts that came out was that US Chess sent Alejandro as a coach at the Women’s Olympiad—an event that includes over 100 minors—despite my repeated warnings (in addition to warnings from others) that he allegedly abused a 15-year-old, and that he had also attacked me. With the truth out, I was hopeful, perhaps naively so, that I could help reset the pieces and forge a better future within US Chess especially for our girls and children.
Instead of support, I was greeted with hostility. My tweet—the one that finally instigated consequences—was criticized by US Chess. A lawyer representing the organization told me to be “mindful” that speaking up could violate policy and “jeopardize” US Chess’s process. From the Women’s Olympiad coach selection to the day I resigned, my advice and accomplishments were consistently minimized or ignored.
Based on what I’ve seen, I cannot currently lend my credibility to the organization in good conscience. This is especially true since I’ve become a de facto confidante for so many women and girls—making it essential for me to have faith in executive decision making and communication.
Those familiar with institutional betrayal and whistleblowing won’t find any of this surprising. As painful as it was, I am confident the insights I gained will help me in my advocacy and work.
I wish the best for US Chess in making the necessary changes in the future. And to whoever takes over US Chess Women, know that my door is always open to chat.
My deepest admiration goes to the Jane Doe’s who stepped up and broke the silence, to make the game safer for the next generation. To any survivors reading this post, whether you’ve spoken up or not: know that to me, you are the important one.
In truth, Jennifer Shahade