In the wake of the Ramirez scandal, which tarnished the reputation of the Saint Louis Chess Club, as well as the US Chess, it has become clear that neither organization intends to take any responsibility for their failures to protect women and girls from predators such as Alejandro Ramirez and Timur Gareyev – as have been well documented by Lichess.org and by this WSJ article.
In the initial scurry to seem as though they were addressing real problems, it was not clear at first that, in addition to avoiding any real accountability, the US Chess intended to double-down on their response. But on social media, multiple executive board members, including President Randy Bauer and the newest EB member Leila D’Aquin, have continued to argue that their response to the many allegations, including those from Jennifer, were “timely and appropriate” – as erroneously concluded by an anonymous third party (i.e. an expensive law firm protecting their liability) paid for by the dues paying members. As noted by the Lichess.org article, it is not just Jennifer Shahade but another victim of Ramirez who vehemently object to this characterization.
Jennifer Shahade’s tweet that exposed Alejandro Ramirez as a predator was a watershed moment for women sharing stories of abuse and harassment in chess communities around the world. One of my own friends, who has not been active in the chess world for many years, shared her story with me of predatory actions by a coach when she was underage. I encouraged my friend to file a Safe Play report.
My friend did not want to fill out a Safe Play form. She did not trust US Chess (with good reason), but she was willing to share her story with Jennifer. She reached out to Jennifer personally – not in her capacity as representative of US Chess – because by speaking up, Jennifer had become the de facto leader of a movement to break the silence on the systemic abuse – that, while not unique to the chess world, is clearly prevalent. Jennifer has earned her credibility over a long career of making the chess world a better and safer place for girls, women, and everyone else.
With my friend’s permission, Jennifer filed a report on behalf of my friend, summarizing the story. My friend and I both expressed doubts about the willingness of US Chess to act, but Jennifer expressed cautious optimism that the organization was trying to improve the way they handled cases like these, even if they had not publicly accepted any accountability. (This was before it became clear just how toxic an environment it would continue to be.) Jennifer submitted the report, and an investigator followed up with my friend. I was mentioned as someone who could corroborate parts of my friend’s story, and who had some additional information to add, as someone who also knew the perpetrator. I didn’t have a smoking gun, but I had relevant information. US Chess chose not to call me to corroborate or add anything. They basically told my friend that they were not going to investigate further. The person in question is a high-profile trainer who is still active in the chess scene – someone the US Chess partners with – yet they couldn’t be bothered to investigate further allegations of minor abuse.
Eventually, when I tweeted about their lack of response, another member of the Executive Board – John Fernandez – reached out, and helped facilitate an interview with the Safe Play investigation. He has been the only member of the Executive Board who has spoken about these issues with any empathy.
How can anyone trust the US Chess as an entity at this point? Even if we assume that the resumption of the Safe Play investigation was not just for the sake of optics (the investigators did seem to truly care), the President of US Chess Randy Bauer is active on social media threatening to dox a victim of abuse, and blaming another victim of assault. It is disgraceful. The privacy of abuse victims who come forward cannot be trusted in the hands of someone like Randy Bauer, who might divulge confidential details on social media because he is having a temper tantrum.
Jen wrote in her resignation letter hat her concerns and advice were minimized or ignored. It is clear from Randy’s callous response to survivors just how toxic the environment she was grappling with was. Randy Bauer also argued in patronizing fashion that Carol Meyer could not possibly have upheld a toxic structure as a woman. But this is a ridiculous argument, and as Executive Director, Carol Meyer has been the main driver behind so many of these bad decisions. Meanwhile the newest Executive Board member, Leila D’Aquin seems content to parrot Carol’s talking points, distorting the truth about the timeline of reported allegations.
It seems that Carol is more focused on protecting her career than protecting the members she is supposed to serve, and there seems little reason to believe that any action taken will be timely or appropriate. This is disappointing on a personal level, as many trusted friends vouched for her at the start of her term. But the reality of her priorities is now obvious.
As disheartening as much of this is, the chess community have called loudly for Randy Bauer’s resignation, including GM Ben Finegold, who announced that he was canceling his US Chess membership. And it is not just grandmasters who are canceling their memberships. Another member who recently canceled his membership quoted Randy Bauer directly, claiming that he was one such member described by Randy Bauer who had “not contributed anything substantial to chess” to whom Randy thinks he “has earned the right” to speak however he chooses, even on such sensitive subjects.
Now another member of the community has responded by creating a petition on change.org calling for Randy Bauer’s resignation. While this resignation is not sufficient to reform a broken system, it is certainly a necessary start, as is the resignation of Carol Meyer. It is not clear who knew what when, and it may very well be that other board members need to resign as well, particularly those who continue to maintain that action by US Chess was “timely and appropriate.”
We need more competent, more trustworthy leadership. We are calling for the immediate resignations of Randy Bauer and Carol Meyer.
Sean Finn & Garden State Passers