The Role of Camp Leaders in Addressing Problematic Hiring Practices
Complicit with Problematic Hiring Practices
We, camp leaders, need to accept that we have been complicit with practices that make it harder for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) to find employment in our industry, let alone advance to leadership. Once we accept this, we need to take tangible action to change it.
I would suggest beginning with looking critically at your rites of passage, specifically your Counselor-in-Training (CIT) programs. We’ve allowed these systems to be an industry-accepted and often celebrated means of gatekeeping.
Through these programs that encourage our campers to become CITs and then staff members, we are making it more difficult for those outside of our preexisting communities to join our teams.
This practice can have a lasting impact on an individual’s opportunity to advance their camp career.
In reflecting on my own experience from camper to my current leadership role, I have to recognize that I have benefited from these systems built on inherent privilege. My professional journey took some winding steps along the way but when I decided, in college, to return to camp as a staffer, I benefited from having grown up there. I didn’t benefit just in the hiring process either. I found a social groove immediately with my fellow staff members because I was already a part of the camp. I knew the songs, the games, and the rituals. Late in the summer of my first season, a fellow staff member shared that during training week some of the returning counsellors talked about who the new staff members were who they liked. My name was mentioned. I was proud; I had passed the test.
I hadn’t stopped to think about those whose names weren’t included and how different their experiences probably were from my own until now, years later.
Regardless of industry, when we are publicly challenged to critically review the racial makeup of our organization, there is always someone pushing back to hire the “most qualified” candidate. Often this is followed by someone who questions, “do you think there are no qualified BIPOC candidates”. This dialogue continues down a pretty predictable path. What I’ve seen less often are leaders taking responsibility for our own actions or lack thereof that contribute to these systems in the first place. We allow ourselves to stop at a pat on the back when we say “I strive to hire diverse candidates” but don’t question and correct the hiring process at every step of the way.
It is time for us to stop striving and start doing.
It is our responsibility to redefine what qualified means.
An applicant who had the opportunity (read: privilege) of attending our camp since they were 7 years old and matriculate through a CIT program that their family probably paid for should not immediately be viewed as more qualified than a candidate who spent their summers working or babysitting or volunteering. Yes, we need qualified camp staffers but that means we need people who are risk managers, problem solvers, and empathetic listeners not just those who could pay to play.
It’s hard to question and dismantle systems that we have benefited from especially when we can’t see the disservice being done to others. I think camp professionals genuinely try to create accepting, inclusive, and empowering spaces for their campers and the adults who work with them but we are falling short. Until we are willing to have these hard conversations and do this critical work, we will continue to fall short of this well-intentioned, aspirational goal.
This is only one aspect of the work of camp that we need to address to upend the disparities in our industry but it’s critical that we begin rethinking these practices that we view as traditions or rites of passage. We must concurrently address other areas of concern like low pay, gaps in training, and staff accountability for creating healthy workspaces. We need to listen to people whose experiences differ from our own, to amplify diverse voices, to admit when we make mistakes, to plan with inclusion first and not as a secondary objective.
~ Alyssa Porter
We want to thank Alyssa for taking the time to write this up. We appreciate your passion and thoughtful writing on this important topic, Alyssa!
Travis Allison9 July 2020