Vt. Campers Subjected To Racial Slurs

Published: 8/20/2018 1:42:44 PM
Modified: 8/20/2018 1:43:36 PM

Youths of color attending a summer camp in Stowe earlier this month were targets of racial slurs and other offensive behavior, according to parents, who say the camp has scrapped plans to hold another session in Vermont next year.

Eighty-five families from across the country and the world attended the one-week program for adopted children of color, run by Pact, a California-based adoption organization that runs summer camps on the West and East Coasts.

The purpose of the camps, parents said, is to allow their campers, usually adopted by white parents, to spend time with other kids of color and counselors too.

According to parents, the campers and counselors were subjected to racial slurs at a local mini-golf on the Mountain Road in Stowe from “cowardly” people yelling out of car windows. They also said the youths were stared at, questioned, and treated in an unfriendly manner by some of the staff at the Stoweflake Resort in Stowe.

“Incidents like this happened pretty much every time they went out, to the point where they felt unsafe,” said Sarah Rosenthal, a Montpelier parent who attended the camp with two of her children. Vermont was selected for the East Coast camp in part, she said, because of its perceived progressiveness, which she said was typified by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“I think a lot of us thought Vermont was better than this,” she said.

Alyson Mahony, another parent from Montpelier who attended with her two children, said a group of camp counselors “experienced hostility from the moment they got off the plane.” People at the airport stared and questioned where they were from. Also, they said, the airport taxi driver asked who would pay the tab before leaving, which they viewed as an unusual request.

“Damage has been done,” Mahoney wrote in a letter to Vermont legislators and Gov. Phil Scott. She said that moving the camp to another state would have economic impacts and hurt the state’s reputation, particularly within the national community of transracial adoption, where children of color are adopted by white parents.

Meanwhile, a vice president at the Stoweflake, Scot Baraw, said he was “shook and disturbed” by the racial slurs he was told were directed at the camp group playing golf.

Baraw said he apologized to the group but noted he could not control comments yelled out a car window.

He disputed that any staff members had been unwelcoming and said he had not received any complaints during their stay. He said the resort has many employees of color and that the site hosts numerous groups of different races and nationalities and that he was unaware of any past problems.

“I’m so shocked to hear that and it really saddens me” to hear complaints about staff, said Baraw, whose represents the third generation in his family to work at the resort, which opened in 1963 and has been voted a top spa by readers of Conde Nast Traveler.

Parents said some planned outdoor activities were scrapped and programs moved indoors out of fears of hearing more racial slights. Baraw said he discouraged canceling any events and insisted the Stowe community was friendly.

Baraw said some of the perceived slights were a case of misinterpretation — the issue with the cab driver, he said, occurred after the driver hadn’t been told by his company whether the ride would be billed to the riders or through the resort.

“I think some of this may be a case of misintepretation,” he said.

“From everything I could tell from everyone, it was a great week, great interaction and we (the camp and the resort) worked really hard to pull it off,” Baraw said.

Mahony said no one left early because they had plane reservations and every effort was made to not have all the children find out what happened at the mini-golf site and “put on a good face.”

Baraw said the camp had not reserved rooms for next year and he had been told by a parent the group would not be coming back.

“I’d really love to see them come back,” he said.

Beth Hall, the executive director of Pact, said the group had an option to stay at Stoweflake for next year but has not exercised it and are pursing other options. The group has held camps out west for 16 years. This was only the second year on the East Coast. The camp costs several thousand dollars for the week, the price higher because the whole family stays.

Rosenthal said her children are not typically targets of abuse when she is with them because people don’t say anything in front of her, but she said a group of campers and counselors of color don’t enjoy that same “white privilege” protection.

She also opined that some people feel “more emboldened” to make derogatory comments after the election of Donald Trump as president. This week, a former White House official said in a book that Trump regularly used a racial slur.

“It feels like we’re in a different era,” Rosenthal said.

Gov. Phil Scott’s spokesperson, Rebecca Kelley, said the governor’s office had not received the letter, but that Scott decried any racist behavior.

“While we don’t have the details of this specific situation, I’ve been clear I do not tolerate hateful, racist, or bigoted speech of any kind and certainly not when it’s directed at children. All kids should feel safe and be treated with care and respect in Vermont. Anything otherwise is unacceptable and should not be tolerated,” Scott said in a statement.

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, said she had not received the letter. She said she ran into the group at a local restaurant and had a nice chat.

“What a shame,” she said.

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