Building Diversity In Camp Staff

By Susan Langlois

To build diversity in camp staff, consider taking a two-pronged approach:

1. Invest in cultural-competence staff training.

2. Assign staff members to explore and engage with communities that don’t look like yours.

© Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean

© Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean

First Approach: Developing Cultural Competence
This is a process that certainly doesn’t have an end point, but it is probably the best starting point. It is also easy and a valued part of a camp environment, once everyone commits to it. A camp community committed to cultural competency will help staff members become more aware, accepting, and comfortable with differences. The camp will attract more diversity because newcomers (along with their differences) will naturally feel more welcome.

There are consultant/trainers who specialize in developing a foundation for cultural competence in organizations. Camp leaders can also identify activities to enhance cultural competence from resources on the web. A great place to start is an open-source resource that has a community toolbox with easy-to-engage activities that will help build diversity in your camp staff. Kansas University’s Center for Community Health and Development provides a free cultural-competence tab.

Here is an easy way to demonstrate to camp staff members the art and the energy to appreciate differences:

Cultural Competence Exercise: Stand up to receive your applause
The leader of this exercise asks a group of people sitting in chairs to stand to receive applause if they fit a particular description.

For example, the leader asks, “How many people had breakfast this morning? Please stand up to be recognized.” The leader then directs the group to applaud those who ate breakfast. The group stands to be recognized, and the applause gives an affirmation. There is an organic effect on the people who stand. The people who did not stand provide the applause that acknowledges this distinction of eating breakfast that morning.

This act of people applauding those who are different is an act of celebrating differences.

Please stand if you dropped a family member off this morning before you traveled here.

(More group applause)

Please stand if you tend to procrastinate accomplishing a task, but you surge to the deadline.

Please stand if you are from a state without a coastline. (You can also ask the people who stand to name their states.)

Please stand if you are the oldest child in your family.

Please stand if you are the youngest child in your family.

As you can tell, some of these categories are arbitrary, behavioral, and even in the case of acknowledging people who wait until the last minute to get things done, the descriptions are positive.

You can frame these applause lines with camp examples:

Please stand if this is your first time being a staff member.

Please stand if you are a staff veteran.

Now you’ve celebrated both ends of the spectrum.

Please stand if you learned how to swim at camp.

You can end this exercise any way you’d like. Here’s one option: “Please give everyone a round of applause for the wonderful people we are!”

This exercise can really be a great morale booster, too. Who wouldn’t appreciate receiving some applause?

© Can Stock Photo / phildate

© Can Stock Photo / phildate

There are so many exercises like “Stand up to receive your applause” that have low risks and high rewards. Validating people can make all the difference in growing diversity in camp staff members.

What are the rewards for cultural-competence training? Here are a few:

  • The more that human beings step out of their comfort zone, the more confidence they can have when meeting and welcoming new people.

  • Every staff member can understand and appreciate that differences do not deserve a label of right or wrong. Differences are just differences. With this shift in perspective, it is easier to appreciate and enjoy collaborating—rather than judging.

  • There is more staff awareness that people who live in different cultures can have their own customs, expressions, and rules of the road. Diversity becomes even more desirable when people are open and can see the value of learning from multiple perspectives.

Second Approach: Exploring And Engaging In Communities That Don’t Look Like Yours
This strategy might only “be needed” for one post-camp season. Simply stated: If you are successful joining new communities, your camp community will probably never look the same. You may also find that reaching out to enjoy what other local communities offer can actually change the way you and your staff members spend time away from camp. You also might find that this exercise becomes an annual event—back by popular demand.

Start this exercise by asking staff members to work in pairs. Each pair Googles a community calendar that shows cultural events they have never attended.

At the next staff meeting members will be asked to participate and report on the discovery. Ask staff members to take the initiative to introduce themselves to at least two new people at the event. Staff members can mention that they work at a local camp (adding to the public-relations value of this exercise). In fact, one of the assignments can be to meet two new people and ask what they do in their leisure time. When the staff members bring back the information to the next meeting and share it with the group, examine what trends have emerged:

  • What categories of events were attended?

  • Whom did they meet?

  • Would they go back?

Also, examine if there are other types of community events out there that weren’t attended in this first round. If there actually are more events that staff members can identify, well, welcome to round two of this exercise!

Prepare for round two by asking staff members to find a new partner. From the list of unattended events, have each pair find an event via a Google search on a community calendar. Staff members also might discover a community calendar that has a monthly newsletter by which they can receive notices of upcoming events through email. Also, in round two, not only could they introduce themselves to two new people, but the staff members could take a photo of an object that captures the nature of the event. At the next staff meeting, members can share both their photos and the information they learned about the people they met. A community photo collage might be created and posted in the camp’s dining room and on the camp’s website. The collage might also be the photo on the front of a postcard or part of an email message sent out to next season’s campers.

Building more diversity in a camp staff requires the cultural competence to commit to safe zones that give people validation for who they are. It is also crucial to reinforce that a diverse and welcoming community does not require the new people to do all the adapting to become part of that community. Welcoming someone who brings a different view of life is not a hurdle to get over. Instead, this becomes another opportunity to meet a new colleague and friend who loves life at camp, too.

Susan Langlois has more than 30 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director, and sport-facilities design consultant. She is a graduate of Springfield College and the University of New Hampshire. She is currently the Dean of Arts & Sciences at Rivier University in Nashua, N.H. Reach her at