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A s we’ve mentioned in our first and second blog posts, the topic of race and privilege is more than just a topic we are passionate about—it’s also personal. We have both experienced what it’s like to feel excluded, unrepresented, and targeted because of our race. These feelings are very common among BIPOC and have so often been dismissed and ignored. We also know what it’s like to be part of a summer camp community that has recognized the importance of critical reflection and that has committed to the important work of addressing these issues. 

We think it’s important to address this fact because we hope you gain not only insightful information, but confidence that you can implement this change at your camp as well.

At this point, your team has moved through the first four of our six steps.

  1. You have acknowledged that racism exists in your organization. You recognize how complex these issues are, and that mistakes will be made during the process of addressing them.
  2. You have updated your mission statement to prioritize emotional and physical well-being. This action can make a huge difference to campers, and can also help you hire staff who are equally committed to your goals.
  3. You’ve assembled an inner circle to set goals and develop ways of keeping your whole team accountable to them.
  4. You’ve covered the fundamental information so everyone is approaching this work with a common level of knowledge.

This work related to privilege and racism at summer camp is ongoing—you’ll never truly be done with this process—but you are ready to start implementing via these two additional steps:

  1. Make a list of action items
  2. Evaluate your work along the way

As we’ve said many times before, these posts do not encompass everything it takes to create safe space. Keep that in mind as you approach the advice we provide here.

This work related to privilege and racism at summer camp is ongoing—you’ll never truly be done with this process.

5. Make a list of action steps

Your work up to this point has been about establishing the foundation. Now it’s time to put what you’ve learned and understood into practice. 

Brainstorm with your team and come up with some concrete actions that will spark change and push your organization closer to inclusivity. A good way to think about these specific steps is to remember the work you did to update your mission statement to reflect the safe environment you aim to create. The first steps you settle on should help your team reach that common goal. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Examine your traditions

While your camp traditions may seem completely acceptable, you should apply the lens of privilege to them. Are there examples of where you’re appropriating culture, language, or symbols?

You may want to evaluate some of your camp traditions. For example, it would be beneficial to reflect on:

  • Traditions that may be appropriative of another culture (i.e. certain games or ceremonies) 
  • Building and team names that may be appropriative or harmful to certain groups of people

While it’s vital to revise problematic or appropriative traditions and names, it’s important to remember that practicing and changing behaviors is a necessary and important action as well. 

Practice a culture of “calling in”

When being called out for doing or saying something racist, whether an overt form or a microaggression, it’s easy to become consumed by feelings of embarrassment or defensiveness. We want to provide a different perspective on being called out, which can sometimes elicit the feeling of being personally attacked.  

As explained by Marie Beecham, an anti-racism educator and social justice activist, “anti-racism work is not a self-improvement project.” She adds, “When you make it about you, constructive criticism feels like a very personal attack. When BIPOC are at the center of your antiracism work, constructive criticism feels like a welcome opportunity to learn and do better.”

To avoid these issues, set up expectations with your staff and teach them to shift mindsets from “I’m being called out” to “I’m being called in,” when it comes to accountability. 

  • For the person being called in, they are able to recognize that their teammate is taking time and energy to explain how something they said or did caused harm. 
  • The person experiencing this harmful situation is trusting enough to believe that their teammate will accept what they are saying, and to believe that they can and will do better.

When someone addresses something that you have said or done that was racist, or when you acknowledge it within yourself, it is important that you apologize sincerely while being mindful of your language.

Change how you apologize

Another action step is to adjust how you and your team apologize when you are called in. Often apologies emphasize the person most affected by the action. These apologies can feel invalidating or dismissive of someone’s experience. 

For example, apologies that are dismissive include:

  • “I’m sorry you felt hurt”
  • “I didn’t mean to hurt you”
  • “It’s not my fault” 

Instead, center apologies that indicate taking responsibility, such as, “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

Showing gratitude is a related action step. Statements such as:

  • “Thank you for holding me accountable”
  • “I hadn’t thought of that, thank you for your perspective”
  • “Thanks, I didn’t know that”

You can also validate those who do the calling-in, and let them know that they are being heard and that you value them holding you accountable. Saying “yeah, you’re right!” or “that’s a really good point!” are two examples.

In all of this, the main takeaway should be that it’s not only the words that matter. When you’re teaching your staff this, ask them to focus on sincere validation, apology, and gratitude.

When someone addresses something that you have said or done that was racist, or when you acknowledge it within yourself, it is important that you apologize sincerely while being mindful of your language. 

6. Continuously evaluate

As we’ve stated numerous times throughout this series, the topics of privilege and racism at summer camp are very complex and dense. There will always be more to learn, and adjustments that will need to be made within your organization. One simple way to evaluate is to get feedback from your staff. You can do this by simply setting up specific times to chat, sending out a survey, or even by using sticky notes where staff members can write feedback anonymously and stick them to your office door.

Whichever method you choose, we suggest it be something that all staff members feel comfortable with. They spend their time with campers and are truly immersed in your camp community, so they will see first-hand what is working and what isn’t. Therefore, we highly recommend that you encourage your staff members to provide feedback, both positive and constructive.

Let your staff in on the intentional change process

Accepting feedback is only one part of the equation. When someone on staff does approach you with an issue, you need to be prepared to respond and react correctly. We’ve created a system that easily flows and leads you to a thoughtful and timely adjustment and solution process. Feel free to use our system or modify it to create one that adheres to your own camp atmosphere. 

1. Acknowledge that there’s an issue

Similar to acknowledging that racism exists at your summer camp, the first step to intentional change is simply acknowledging that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. Thank the staff member who has brought this problem to your attention and acknowledge that it needs to change. 

2. Evaluate

  • Time: You will need to evaluate how long it might take to fix the problem. Is it something you can turn around quickly, or will it require a lot more time for planning? Be conscious of the amount of time that goes towards convincing others that this change needs to occur, and the time to actually make change. What can you do in your role and what actually requires buy-in and longer decision-making processes?
  • Threads: When we say threads, we are talking about the other issues that may be connected to, or the result of, the initial problem. Take a look at ways this issue trickled down into other areas. At our camp, someone brought up an issue with one of the cabin names. We acknowledged that the name needed to be changed, but there were other threads we needed to evaluate that were connected to the issue. Each cabin name needed to be looked at thoroughly to determine whether it too was appropriate. We also needed to evaluate the names of the other buildings around camp, as well as unit and and team names. 

3. Prioritize

With all of these different issues related to privilege and racism at summer camp on your plate, you’re going to need to decide where to start. We suggest you begin with what’s going to make the most impact when it comes to tackling white supremacy and racism at your camp. We are not suggesting that you should wait to start making a change, but that you have to start somewhere and be intentional about it. 

4. Problem solve together

Once you have your list of priorities, it is time to take action and problem solve as a team! The key word in this step is together. By not including your staff in this step, you are essentially robbing them of an experience to do this sort of thing outside of camp. One of your main aspirations for your staff members should be to train and equip them to lead impactful and positive lives outside of camp. What’s exciting is that camp truly is a training ground for your staff members’ future impact!

With all of these different issues related to privilege and racism at summer camp on your plate, you’re going to need to decide where to start. We suggest you begin with what’s going to make the most impact when it comes to tackling white supremacy and racism at your camp. We are not suggesting that you should wait to start making a change, but that you have to start somewhere and be intentional about it. 

Now the work begins to dismantle privilege and racism at summer camp

This is the final installment of our three-part blog series, and as a quick recap, here are the six steps we highlight and explain here and in parts one and two:

  1. Acknowledge that racism exists within your organization 
  2. Look at your mission statement and make sure it clearly reflects and includes what you strive for at your camp
  3. Involve your staff members now so that together, you can work to dismantle racism at your camp 
  4. Create a common level of knowledge among your staff so that no one feels afraid to be part of these conversations
  5. Make a list of action steps so that your team can reach your common goal and mission statement
  6. Continuously evaluate, reflect, and review your actions and encourage feedback

We would like to remind you that this series is not an extensive and all-encompassing guide to dealing with racism within your organization. What we are aiming for is that this can be a starting point for those of you who may have not known where or how to start enacting change within your camp communities.

As a final word, remember that in a world where BIPOC are pervasively disadvantaged and oppressed, inaction equates to complicity. Take action and commit to doing the work to help make your camp a more inclusive and safe space for everyone. In order to continue the work, you have to take it upon yourself to continually educate yourself and reflect on your behavior and actions. In closing, we want to help your self-education process with a few resources that we have found helpful:

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