From Theory to Praxis: Introduction of Mixed Gender Day Camp Groups at Summer Camp

During the past 12 summers I have attended YMCA Camp Minikani, first as a camper, then a counselor, and now as an administrator. With this new role in a leadership position, the responsibility of creating an environment for kids to learn and interact outside of normative constructions of the outside world is on my shoulders. Positive youth development in a camp setting is all about creating an environment of equality and respect for campers to pass on to people in their outside lives. Minikani actively works against destructive societal norms to promote originality and kindness towards others. As a leader of the organization, I aim to continue to work against constructions to promote individual and community wide respect. One way we can address this is through the reexamination of Minikani’s gender grouping.

For more than half of Minikani’s history, camp was extremely gender exclusive as only boys were allowed to come to camp. In 1967, the YMCA allowed for females to become campers, and soon after, counselors. Since then, however, there has been little change made regarding gender practices. The camp is currently set up with a day camp and an overnight camp, both of which separate groups into male and female groups. After taking this course, the necessity of demolishing the binary ideas of gender and sexuality became obvious. Anne Fausto-Sterling, along with other authors and theorists, has illuminated the history of assigning gender to bodies, the disconnection between ideas of binary genders and evidence of multiple genders, and the bias in the medical field with regards to sexing the body. These ideas make it clear gender is a construction, and limiting humanity to a binary viewpoint is limiting people’s ways of viewing themselves.

One of the YMCA’s core tenants includes the notion of diversity and inclusion. On their website, one can easily find this statement: “Together we work to ensure everyone—regardless of gender, income, faith, sexual orientation or cultural background—has the opportunity to live life to its fullest”. This is a goal that the YMCA at large, and Minikani in specific, have actively worked towards. Yet the continuation of binary gender divisions in camper groups has promoted an idea that is limiting to people’s constructions of themselves. Therefore, I am proposing a change starting in the day camp unit of Camp Minikani. We would, instead of organizing groups based on male or female and age, only organize groups based on age. This mixing of genders can help to teach cooperation and friendship with people who identify differently than you. More importantly, the lack of naming day camp groups in binary terms promotes inclusion and a non-limiting viewpoint on gender. Starting with the day camp groups in summer of 2017 can be a jumping off point and eventually lead to changes in the overnight camp unit to breakdown binary gender ideas as well. Even if no campers come to camp identifying outside of male or female, the breakdown of the binary system will lead to a respect and appreciation for mixed gender groups and a gender inclusive world.