28 December, 2011

last chapter of a very long story

Dear L,

I need to tell you something. I never completed the staff review form this summer because I was afraid that it would be obvious who I was even if I mailed it in anonymously, and that if I said what I thought, I would not be asked to return to camp. This winter, when I realized that I had not been asked to return anyway, I decided that I would probably write to you and tell you this.

I don't expect you to answer this but I do ask that you read it carefully and think about what I have to say, because I think that camp will be a safer and better place if you read it. I know you're busy with work and preparing for the summer, and that you may not get to it right away. But I have faith that you will read it. Thank you.

As you may or may not know, I was born with a disability. When I was growing up, I never went to a camp like [name of camp] and there were not many social groups for kids with my disability. When I came to camp in 2010, it was the first time that I was able to meet and get to know people with disabilities and this is one of the reasons that camp has been so important to me. Both summers, I told some other counselors that I am disabled and they were supportive, but I generally do not like to tell employers this for fear that they will assume I am not able to perform the functions of a job because of my disability.

In the first session of camp in 2011, a fellow counselor told me that he considered our young campers to be "brats who needed discipline," and that when his campers were annoying him, he wished he could hit them. He was angry with the campers for doing things like becoming upset, crying, being mad at him, or not responding to commands. I tried to defend the campers, but he said that he didn't see why I liked them so much because they were "just brats," and implied that I was bad at my job because I didn't share his views on how to discipline campers. (Through other staff, I later found out that this counselor would do things like bringing food to his cabin that the campers were not allowed to have, and eating it in front of them.)

After having this type of conversation with him a few times, I felt so scared by him that I no longer wanted to be around him. Given the attitudes he expressed toward people with disabilities, I didn't feel safe telling this other counselor that I am disabled. We had become friends during orientation, and he didn't understand that (from my perspective) we could no longer be friends. He expected that I would still want to spend time with him during breaks, but I now tried to avoid him, though I tried not to offend him or make it obvious what I was doing.

I found the situation so upsetting and awkward that I didn't know what to do. I strongly considered quitting camp and leaving immediately. It was hard to stay, but I chose to stay because I cared about my campers and because of the effects on the workload of other staff if I were to suddenly quit. When other staff would have conversations about this counselor, I would participate in them because I was so upset by the situation. I know that this wasn't a good course of action and I'm sorry for talking about another counselor when he wasn't there. It was wrong.

But, when I was able to talk to an authority figure about what happened, I felt like I was in more trouble than the person who had expressed a wish to be violent toward kids with disabilities. I had actually imagined that this counselor might be fired, but my concerns were not even acknowledged, and I did not get the impression that he was ever told his behavior was wrong. Instead, I was told that I shouldn't have "talked about him behind his back," as if it was just an issue of the two of us not getting along. (In fact, we had been friends up to that point. I didn't have a personal problem with him.) I was also told that I should have confronted him directly about why I was upset--but as a person with a disability, I don't feel safe confronting someone who acts so hateful about people with disabilities, and besides, I had already tried to talk to him about it several times.

This was a tough experience that I was really disappointed by, but I got over it and had a great time at camp. I worked hard and dealt with some challenging situations, like being a float in session three and being given responsibility of a very high-need camper in the middle of session four, when D quit. I think that I dealt with these challenges well; even when I was stressed, I never let it affect my positive relationship with my campers. I think this is the most important part of working as support staff, especially with vulnerable populations.

However, I felt like I was seen as a troublemaker after the incident in first session. Several times I was told off for supposedly doing things that I hadn't done, like smoking in camp buildings and disregarding the safety of campers. These things were not true, but the conversations about them always occurred in a public place and were very brief, so I rarely got a chance to explain. I didn't want to arrange a meeting with you to explain why I felt I was being held responsible for things that didn't happen, because it seemed like making a big deal out of nothing. But I knew that you were probably forming a bad impression of me, and I wasn't surprised to learn that I am no longer wanted at camp. I'm incredibly sad to get confirmation, but I am not surprised.

I know I am responsible for what happened because I should have addressed this while it was going on. I can't change it now. But it would mean a lot to me if you would keep my comments in mind when dealing with other staff and campers in future summers.

Thank you so much for reading all of this.




  1. I don't think you did anything that bad. That guy is an asshole for talking about the campers that way.

    I wonder if he's friends with the people in charge though and if you're being singled out unfairly because you lack the connections he does or something. Like it's something weird and political like that. People will a lot of times treat other people differently just because they have a relationship with them and then they'll turn around and claim you did something wrong when it wasn't really any worse than anything anyone else is doing, it's just that you're outside the inner circle.

    I dunno. I've been obsessed with unfairness lately, so that's my take on it. I can't really judge, not having been there.

  2. I'm really sorry, Amanda. It sucks that a prick like that other counselor is apparently A-OK with whoever runs that camp, but somebody like you gets treated like an outcast and then asked not to come back.

  3. I've noticed the phenomenon draws with pens mentions more times than I can count, and I do suspect that that could've been what happened... it really, really sucks to be caught on the wrong end of that.

  4. I am so sorry you're dealing with this. And I am so, so sad that those campers are missing out on knowing an adult like them.

  5. There are some preteens/teenagers at camp, but most of the campers are middle-aged or older. Which makes them "adults like me," and I am so lucky to have known them. :)

  6. My mistake for making assumptions.

    Doing the right thing is hard. =(

  7. I just realized that if you had disclosed to your employers you would have a decent chance of making the argument that people were discriminating against you on the basis of your social disability and you might would get to keep the job.

    I just thought I'd mention that in case the situation is not frustrating enough already.

  8. My social disability? You know I'd rather eat glass.

    Besides, not only would I not want to return to work under people who dislike me so much, but I think the tactic you're referring to only works in movies and TV. Even if I was willing to sue them for the sake of a subminimum wage job, I would never be able to prove why they did certain things, and given the fact that those decisions really weren't caused by my disability, it would be obvious I was playing a card.

    What really happened is they failed to practice universal design, and they also didn't do their jobs competently. They never took the time to learn things like which counselors were responsible for which campers, and a lot of the time I would get told off for not doing something they thought I was assigned to do. This mostly happened when I was a float, which meant I was responsible for different campers at different times, so I'm guessing they would see me working with a camper and assume that camper was my camper, and then assume I was doing something wrong when they saw me working with a different camper. (They also seemed really angry with me for smoking, which I only did because the staff handbook said it was allowed--if we weren't allowed to smoke at camp I would have quit.)

    If you mean that I should try and guilt them into letting me come back by implying that they fired me because of my disability, I think I covered that base in the letter, but I'm not hopeful.

  9. I just mean people would be more likely to take that seriously than the actual stuff you're talking about (basically different kinds of discrimination), not that you could/should make that argument. I don't even really mean I necessarily think that it would have worked.