Written by: Ben Atlas and Rachel Lew
Every year, as student delegates return from Camp Everytown, informal debates ensue over the camp’s merits. Opponents of the program generally claim that the insulated atmosphere creates a “cult” that excludes those who do not have a chance to attend. Proponents of the program generally cite increases in empathy and understanding of major social problems that many students undergo. While the camp is far from perfect, it ultimately serves to promote inclusivity and provides a rare opportunity for self-improvement.
At Camp Everytown, delegates are able to confront problems that often get hidden beneath a smiling face and socially acceptable behavior. Teenagers sometimes have nowhere to turn when it comes to any of various serious challenges, including domestic violence, substance abuse, academic stress, racial discrimination and a host of other familial, scholastic and social problems. Everytown’s atmosphere of relaxation and emotional openness creates a safe outlet for issues that otherwise can go unaddressed.
Apart from allowing students the chance to discuss their own problems, delegates hear about others’ problems and become aware of the hardships that their peers undergo. Students who previously had little knowledge of the devastating effects of negative stereotypes are now confronted with a personal image of them. When one’s friend or peer describes an emotionally harmful experience, the awful effects of often unintentional cruelty resonate much more deeply. Thus, delegates are less likely to repeat the same behavior they now find so abhorrent.
Before attending Camp Everytown, it is easy to judge individuals based on their actions rather than the content of their character. Everytown provides an insight into the lives and troubles of others, an experience which makes students think twice before judging. As students realize that almost everyone has gone through some sort of emotional experience, they become more hesitant to cast judgment on a person’s character without knowing what they’ve been through.
The most common and strongest argument against the camp is that it creates an atmosphere of exclusive inclusivity: a cult of acceptance in which those admitted thrive but those not invited are left out, rejected by the cult members who claim moral superiority only because they were nominated to attend a one-weekend camp. To some extent, this sentiment is justified. Unfortunately, only a certain number of people can attend each year, so some students will inevitably get left out. It is also partially true that some attendees might act haughtily and sanctimonious. However, the camp preaches acceptance, and most delegates will honestly attempt to practice that acceptance. While it might be misinterpreted as arrogance, the fact remains that most attendees have undergone at least some personal growth.
The results of this mindset shift are both short-term and far-reaching. At the very minimum, the campers themselves will mature emotionally and ethically. The Everytown experience creates empathy and understanding of various social problems and helps to search for solutions. It also helps delegates to deal with their own personal struggles. A more optimistic outlook of the camp’s success is that Camp Everytown plants the seed of social justice in the mind of each delegate, and helps them check the morality of their own actions. Once one’s eyes are opened to the pernicious damages callous words and careless actions can inflict, he subconsciously watches himself more carefully.
Furthermore, a respected alum of Camp Everytown can influence those around him. As a former delegate’s friends see their peer begin to change previously insensitive behavior, they may seek to reform themselves in response. Because no one enjoys feeling morally inferior, a sort of moral competitiveness is fostered as delegates lead by example—providing benefits for the entire community.
Ultimately, Camp Everytown is not a perfect institution. The fact that only 70 or so students are sent each session means that a large percentage of the school will never attend. However, the camp should still be recognized as a positive influence on those who do. Everytown provides personal growth, tempers judgment and helps change the school into a more accepting community.