Classroom Tips

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at summer camp

Running a summer camp requires wearing many hats (not including ones that protect you from the sun!). You need to consider the budget, business goals, staffing, and programming before you can open your doors. But, another important concern that some camp owners might miss is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at summer camp. 

Putting DEI at the forefront of your summer camp planning helps ensure your campers and staff will feel safe and included throughout their experience. At Sawyer, our goal is to provide camp owners with the tools and resources that they need to be successful. In this guide, we’ll outline tips that you can follow to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion at summer camp.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion at summer camp

Why is DEI important at summer camp?

DEI is important in any group setting. For both campers and staff, DEI should be a main focal point of your training and planning. Whether you run virtual camp, day camp, or sleepaway camp, creating safe and inclusive environments will ensure that every voice is heard and every person involved feels welcome.

Why is DEI important for staff?

As you hire staff members, it is important to keep diversity, equity, and inclusion in the forefront of your hiring processes. Are you finding counselors and staff members from different backgrounds that will provide different perspectives? As you source and interview these candidates, are you offering equitable experiences? If you are looking for support on hiring for your camp, check out our full guide.

After you have your staff selected and you are ready to begin camp counselor training, it is important to enact DEI policies, which we will cover later in the article. This focus on DEI is beneficial for staff members so that they feel safe and comfortable when working with another and with campers. In addition, camps regularly hire young people as counselors and research shows that Generation Z values diversity and inclusion in work culture. 

Why is DEI important for campers?

When parents send their children to a camp, they are expecting that their child will feel welcome and included among their peers and with the counselors. Having diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in place is one of the best ways to ensure that each camper is given the respect that they are due. A zero tolerance bullying policy, opportunities to learn about one another, and open communication lines with staff are great ways to make DEI a focus for campers.

Photo of diversity, equity, and inclusion at summer camp

How to foster diversity and inclusion at summer camp

Now that you know how important DEI is to success for your camp, you might be wondering how you can foster diversity and inclusion for your campers and staff this summer. Use these tips to create a community of inclusion at your summer camp.

Start by listening

When you gather your staff together for the first time, get a sense of their backgrounds and values so you can understand how to enact policies that will benefit everyone. Ask what would make them feel supported, welcome, and included as a staff member that summer. Then, listen! You can ask your counselors to conduct the same exercise with the campers. Even before camp starts, customize your registration form to collect pronoun preferences and other important information. Then when camp starts, make sure everyone has an opportunity to share their preferred name and pronouns and ensure they are used correctly throughout the summer. Use our guide to gender inclusive language to help you get started.

Keep open lines of communication

With both the counselors and campers, it is important that you make a point of being transparent and open with communication. Let them know that you are there to help with any issues that might come up. If staff witness an incident between campers or fellow counselors, they should feel comfortable coming to you or your team. Open communication makes everyone feel welcome.

Make respect the key

Leave no room for pranks, ill-suited jokes, and mean names. Let both campers and counselors know that there is no tolerance for disrespect of each other. Even if they think it’s a “joke,” if it is being done at the expense of another or if it harms someone, it cannot be tolerated at your camp. These types of situations are breeding grounds for bullying and the enemy of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Don’t let them invade your camp.

Create equitable grounds

If you run an in-person camp, you need to think about the physical space before your campers and staff arrive. Here are some questions you can ask about your campus to make sure you are creating an equitable space.

  • Can someone in a wheelchair easily access all areas of the grounds? 
  • Are there quiet areas that people can access if they are feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated? 
  • Would all sized bodies be comfortable in the seating, beds, etc?
  • Are there bathrooms and cabins where people of all gender identities would feel comfortable?

For more questions and resources on building equity at your camp, refer to the guidance of the  National Conference for Community and Justice

Photo of how to foster diversity and inclusion

DEI policies to enact for your camp

In order to successfully foster diversity and inclusion at summer camp, you need to enact DEI policies before the summer begins. Use these as a jumping off point and then supplement with your own after you’ve spoken with your counselors and campers.

  1. No bullying. This is a given, but bullying does not belong at summer camp. At the beginning of the summer, let campers and counselors know that there is zero tolerance when it comes to bullying.
  2. Respect one another. Summer camp is a great opportunity for children to spend time with peers, learn responsibility, and become more independent. As they gain these important life skills, it is also the perfect time for them to learn the importance of respect. By making this a policy at your camp, you let the campers know just how vital respect is.
  3. Listen and learn. Sometimes, when children (and adults) interact with people who are different from themselves, they let the differences blind them. They become nervous or scared and they forget to listen. To help everyone at your camp feel welcome and included, encourage campers and counselors to listen and learn first, then respond. It’s a great lesson that will help them throughout their lives.
  4. Make space for everyone. At the start of the summer, let all campers and staff know that your camp is a space for everyone. Everyone is welcome as they are and you and your team should do everything in your power to make them feel that way. This culture of inclusivity is especially important for campers who might have behavioral issues. According to the experts at the American Camp Association, “Inclusion opens doors for families who feel their child hasn’t been given a fair shake because of something they struggle with.”
Photo of DEI policies

As you prepare to kick off camp season, we hope this guide on diversity, equity, and inclusion at summer camp has provided you with support and inspiration. Creating supportive and welcoming environments is not only paramount to the safety of your campers and staff but also an important part of running a successful camp. 

If you are looking for more guidance on how to start or run a summer camp, the team at Sawyer has you covered. With our suite of tools, like signup forms to record pronoun preferences, allergies and t-shirt sizes; various payment options like gift cards and installment plans; and seamless registration on any device, Sawyer saves camp owners 28 hours per month. Learn how Sawyer can help with a free trial or demo.

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