Inclusivity seems like an easy topic to talk about. That’s because it sounds so good on paper. “All are welcome!” is the kind of statement that most organizations and institutions would say. And yet, in practice, inclusivity is about much more than saying, “all are welcome.” It involves action, reflection, and sometimes it involves hard questions. It involves the knowledge that even if you say someone is welcome they might not actually feel that way.
The basics of inclusivity seem simple enough: wanting to share space with as many people as possible. Where it gets tricky is figuring out how to do it. It’s an important issue, and one we continue to grapple with here at camp. As a Quaker institution, inclusivity and openness are significant values. We want people – people from any culture, background, or heritage to feel like they have a place here; that they can belong. Particularly for children, that need is absolutely paramount for a positive experience.
With this value in place, it can be tempting to feel like the work has already been done, and that adopting this stance will achieve the goal. The truth is that the task is only beginning after identifying the value and that important questions will still remain. Questions such as: will a person of color feel included in a community that’s 95% white despite good intentions? How about a person from the inner city within a community that’s majority suburban? Or a working class person? Or a person who identifies with the LGBTQ community?
Despite our desire to be open, safe, and welcoming, those values don’t exist automatically. To be inclusive of people from different communities, the first true step is to acknowledge a difference in culture. To do more than simply try to assimilate people into our space, but to reach out, and figure out ways to make our community feel warmer from the outside in, rather than the inside out.
It takes a lot of conversation and intentionality. Sometimes it takes structural or programming changes. Changing our big, fancy, camp dinner feast from a Christmas theme to a fun, goofy, Catoctin Specific holiday, for example. Or creating a grant program specifically designed to recruit and pay for children from cities to be able to come to camp too. A lot of inclusivity comes from honesty. I’ve overheard incredible counselors having touching and gentle conversations with campers saying things like, “Hey. I know a lot of people here seem different, and that this is all new. But we really want you here. And I’m really glad to have you.”
Reaching out in that way, and acknowledging reality goes a long way toward helping people belong because you’re trying to meet people where they are, rather than bringing them to your version of normal and expecting them to neatly slide into place.
We’re seeking to continue to upend that expectation. We’re doing it through the pursuit of increased diversity and conversation. We’re doing it by trying to find out if people feel less than comfortable in our community and to find out why. And to not balk at the notion of making changes in order to have people feel that this space belongs to them too. By living within an intimate communal setting, we actually have the opportunity to check in with and advocate for one another. We encourage one another to speak up if something feels weird, and to have them know they will be heard if they do. More importantly, we try to actively search for situations in which that might occur so the onus doesn’t have to always be on the person in a minority group to advocate for themselves as is so often the case. A big part of inclusivity is to try, as much as possible, to see your space and yourself from someone else’s perspective.
A lot of what we do involves recognizing that a lot of social privilege is centered around a dominant culture expecting that their way of doing things isn’t just their way, but is the way. Camp is fortunate enough to be a place that often has its own zany, bright, and vibrant culture. And instead of asking: how can you be a part of that? We’d like to ask: How can you help us build it?