Sunday Snippet: Camp For All!
At the end of each session we share the message with our campers that their camp experience is a real world experience. They have created meaningful relationships with others different than them – from different parts of the world, from different backgrounds, from different faiths, from different cultures. Truly ‘worlds apart, coming together’! Camp WeHaKee helps girls become more welcoming and accepting of others, not just tolerant. It is a place where we all can recognize our similarities and embrace our uniqueness each and every day. The camp community is for everyone.
But that doesn’t happen without significant intention and effort. Creating an inclusive community takes work. And not only by the WeHaKee staff. Our campers and their parents play a key role in helping girls be open to others. By collaborating the sense of acceptance can we truly create a welcoming camp community.
As members of the American Camp Association (ACA), we regularly attend the ACA National Convention. This past event (held in Albuquerque in February) we had the pleasure of participating in the ‘Camp Includes Me’ movement to create more inclusive and accepting environments at our camps. Facilitated by ACA National Board member and noted cultural agility specialist, Niambi Jaha-Echols, we explored and examined the challenges and successes of inclusivity at camp. She recently published an Article in ACA’s monthly periodical, Camping Magazine entitled Camp Includes Me: Where Do We Go From Here? (Niambi Jaha-Echols, Camping Magazine, September/October, 2017).S he shared several ways we as camp directors can continue to nourish the spirit of inclusive communities in our camps. We would like to list them, but adjust them a bit to adapt them to how we can personally be intentionally accepting in our worlds:
Be Willing to Change Your Mind
Several studies have been conducted on the mind, and scientists are finding that having biases is as natural to the mind as breathing is to the lungs. We all make snap judgments and assessments to keep us safe. But those snap judgments are often made based on faulty or incomplete information. For example, have you ever made a snap judgment about another person and later (once you got more information) realized that you were completely wrong? Stereotypes and generalizations are like that. Practice writing the mental stories you create about others in your mind in “pencil” rather than “permanent marker.” In other words, be open to possibly having wrong or incomplete information. Are your beliefs set in stone? Make some mental space to create new perspectives.
Get to Know Everyone
The concept of culture is multilayered and complex like an onion. It is when we pull back the layers, open up, and get to know others that we find we are more alike than different. Everyone wants to be loved, accepted, and respected. When we make an intentional effort to get to know campers and staff who we perceive as different from us, we are less likely to group them in monolithic and homogenous ways. We can then see them and interact with them as individuals rather than as a representative for an entire group. Make connections with others that are more than skin deep. It is variance that adds depth, richness, and excitement to the experience of being a part of our overall communities.
Take Your Own Pulse
Changing systems and organizations can be overwhelming and frustrating because there are so many moving parts (and people) that are impossible to control. The only way to create what we desire is to start with the only thing we have 100-percent control over — ourselves. It becomes easier to change systemic biases when we become aware of our own individual biases. Be aware of your own internal resistance to inclusion. Each of us must acknowledge our unconscious cultural biases and uncover all the ways those biases influence our judgments, feelings, thoughts, and behavior. No one is immune.
Understand the Diversity Elements You Personally Bring
Diversity comes not only in the form of ethnicity, gender, and language, but it also includes elements that are not so obvious, such as educational levels, economic status, health, religion, values, sexual orientation, thoughts, beliefs, etc. Each of us brings to the table a lifetime of experiences and knowledge, and we each add value because of these differences. How many different cultures are you a member of?
Use Inclusive Language
Greeting a group of girls with, “Hey guys” is not meant to be exclusionary, but it could very easily be misconstrued. As a rule, practice using inclusive language all the time. This means talking in a way that does not specify a gender, sex, or sexual orientation unless it is pertinent to the situation. Being sensitive to the fact that cultural membership doesn’t always show on the outside can help us adjust the way we listen and speak.
See Who You Are Not Seeing
There are always people who sit on the fringes of our circles. Initiate meaningful and authentic conversations with others, particularly those who may be quiet, different from you, or overlooked. Look around and see what groups are missing; make a conscious effort to add them.
Look Back with Purpose
Don’t look back just to reminisce. Reflect on the past with the intention to learn and improve. At many camps, campers and staff join us from all parts of the world bringing with them a rich cornucopia of thoughts, viewpoints, lifestyles, and cultures. To stay relevant we will have to adjust, modify, and recreate our environments to forge new fond memories for and with them.
Be Aware of Your Cultural Conditioning
Just like a fish that is unable to see the water in which it is swimming, we can be blind to cultural conditioning. What makes cross-cultural agility difficult at times is the complexity of people — and it is natural for us to react and respond to others based on our personal experiences; what others have seen, experienced or heard; what we see in the media; and so on. Thousands of tiny bits of information filter into our minds and shape how we unconsciously respond to others. Being aware that those fragments of information are everywhere helps us to be mindful and more purposeful in our intentions.
Just Keep Swimming
Know that it will take work. Maintaining the desired transformation we would like to see and experience requires energy. Intentional energy. Creating inclusive communities takes time and only happens when we intend for it to.
Thank you Niambi for your guidance and wisdom. It’s a tall order, but well worth the effort when our commitment creates welcoming and accepting communities! Thank you for reading and have a great week everyone!