Diversity Training Part 1: Focus Points

Diversity Training Part 1: Focus Points

As I’ve been studying for my CDP in the past few months, I’ve been reflecting on the role of “diversity training” within the camp setting. The notion of a “diversity training” typically occupies corporate meeting rooms, but I think we can see it a lot in the camp world, too. How are we teaching the young people who come through our doors to collaborate and care for one another in a multicultural environment? In what ways are we taking the informal aspects of our culture (based in inclusion, equity, kindness, and all those other amazing value words we use to describe camp) and making them formal so that all our campers and counselors can benefit from them?

When I use the phrase “diversity training,” I’m talking about a pretty nebulous concept, which is why I put it in quotes before I defined it. For the sake of this article having some semblance of meaning, I take “diversity training” to mean the following: the time you set aside to talk explicitly with your whole staff about diversities of culture, identity, and experience. I hope, in reading that proposed definition, you see that what I’m going for is very broad and somewhat vague because I want it to apply to things you do. Take a minute to think about what trainings, if any, you offer your staff that fit under this definition. Heck, you might even call it diversity training like we did at Camp Onas until recently!

Before I begin my reflections in earnest, my proverbial focus points, it is important to put forward a few qualifications.

  • First, there is no one-size-fits-all training, program, or cultural intervention that can “solve [insert -ism here],” especially if it is only done once a year. We need to be integrating social justice into all levels of our organizations and communities.

  • Second, and I hope this goes without saying, hire a consultant to assist you if you can. There is a certain richness to internally-created trainings (more on that later), but recognize your own limits and utilize your organizational resources to bring in a professional if you need it.

  • Third, I am talking specifically about staff training here, not to the detriment of also being intentional in teaching our campers about social justice concepts.

  • And, last, I am imperfect and so are my opinions. The thoughts I’m offering are based in personal experience, research, and preparation for my certification, but please let me know when you disagree so that I can further refine them.

This is the first part in a two-part series on diversity training. In this first one, I am going to put out some ideas in a bit more of a theoretical way, blogger-style. In Part 2, I will be talking about a specific training at Onas that has grown over time and how I’m working within my own rules from Part 1. With that being said, let’s get into the quippy part of this article…

Diversity Training Focus Points

Focus on your “why.”

I can pinpoint many times in my life, with all sorts of different organizations, when it was deemed appropriate by “management” to have some sort of diversity training. After lots of them, I can’t help but wonder why they chose the topic at hand. Did they identify a specific problem that needed solving? Did they decide what the needs of the organization were and that the training would meet them? Did they ask the people they were training what they wanted to learn?

Any good training, not just ones that talk about social justice, is both process and outcome-oriented. We often think of outcomes too much and process too little when it comes to other types of training (I’ve sat through too many OSHA talks), but I think we do the inverse when we talk about diversity. We start with process and outcomes become rather nebulous. To have a good outcome, we need to know where our staff are coming from and what they need from us. We need to know why we are doing this training: what are our goals.

A good way to figure out your “why” is to collect some data. When I say collect data, I mean it in a gentle way. The insights you have as someone who knows your camp incredibly well? That’s data! But, good data comes from more than one point. My favorite form of data is simply conversations, but I am working to add more ways to interpret data because… why not?! Below are a few ideas:

  • Try asking your staff what a good training would look like for them. What outcomes do they see are needed and what is a good process to get there?

  • Maybe you could look through your incident reports and see what kinds of issues of harassment are being reported and what kinds aren’t. Both aspects are data that could be in your toolbelt for planning your training.

  • And, perhaps you could look at your other trainings and see what works there (process ideas) and what people are not learning that they need to (outcome ideas).

  • Or, if you’re leveling up your game to a higher degree than I am right now, you could start categorizing and cataloging different microaggressions or incidences of bias that happen at camp to see in the aggregate what are the most pervasive parts of your culture that you need to work on.

Focus on being a facilitator.

There’s nothing quite like sitting still for hours at a time listening to someone drone on about, well, anything. I am a defender of a good lecture, I think it has its time and place, it's just often an over-utilized strategy. While it may seem obvious to not lecture too much during any training, I think it’s valuable to note specifically in regard to conversations about equity and justice.

There is no one trainer who knows everything. As I mentioned earlier, the help of a professional (aka consultant) is not a bad idea, but even they are going to have points of their lived experience that do not match with the people they are training. To solely lecture at people when talking about diversity privileges the perspective of the lecturer in a way that we should strive to decenter. We want everyone to feel included in a training that is so tied into the very idea of inclusion, and one of the fastest ways to do that is through their active participation.

Rather than talk at people, talk with them. A good facilitator will help people find their voice, add it to the group, and bring together a collective wisdom that is greater than any of its parts. A great facilitator can do all that while navigating the complex dynamics of power to ensure all voices that need to be heard are heard and nobody is disproportionately hurt in the process.

A facilitator, or multiple facilitators, are guides to your diversity training. They help establish an agenda (that is open to being changed based on the needs of the moment), collaboratively create ground rules for participants, and help keep the group oriented towards your predetermined outcomes. But, this is a much more horizontal endeavor than the top-down lecture, offering the opportunity for contributions from members of your community who have experience or knowledge they want to share. Pivoting my thinking from teacher to facilitator has done wonders for the way I approach training staff at Onas. By giving people more room to incorporate their own ideas and skills into the training, I have seen not just engagement improve but also our collective outcomes grow stronger.

Focus on upgrading people’s skills.

This might be controversial, but hear me out: you are tremendously unlikely to change someone’s mind with a single training. Our beliefs as humans are held steadfast, with biases, logical errors, and/or emotional saliency giving people the rationale to keep them. Changing minds happens slowly, over long periods of time with consistent exposure to new ideas where individuals can challenge them and be challenged back safely. Change the minds of your staff 1-on-1, or in small groups, with an effort on meeting that individual where they are in their stage of growth. This is why Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion work needs to be done at every level of an organization.

But, your training is not the place to subject every person present to a few people’s need for growth. In fact, this where I have seen some of the most harm caused in a training, classroom, or even just a community. The person leading the space will engage with someone who has disagreements, drawing everyone into a debate where the person debating may be arguing that the identity of their peers does not exist, that they should not have human rights, or they do not belong in this community. Even someone playing “devil’s advocate” can cause inordinate harm to people witnessing their behavior. If you know someone has a problematic take in your organization and you have the emotional bandwidth to engage them on it, do it privately so that everyone else can have a breather and that person has the best chance at changing.

Instead of focusing on what people believe, focus on what they do. This short article from Khalil Smith gets to the point and, I will add personally, I think changing people’s skills might help change their minds later.

Having used data to identify the goals your training is trying to fulfill, focus on the skills people will need to get there. Do you want an environment with less inappropriate jokes? Teach people how to spot a joke that would hurt someone and how to intervene when they hear it. Do you need your staff to be better at handling inter-camper conflict? Run them through scenarios of identity-based conflicts and how they can solve them. Are staff treating people differently based on their identity? Upgrade their skills in identifying unconscious bias in themselves and how to act out their biases differently.

None of these examples include convincing people to treat others with the dignity and love they deserve. Instead, by focusing on skills, you are saying “this is an integral part of your job and we need you to do it well.” And, this will give those who don’t already believe in what you’re selling the chance to engage with the topic on a similar playing field to everyone else. With everyone building skills together, this creates an environment where there can be wrong answers to specific questions, but there is agreement on the outcomes you all want.

Focus your lens broadly, incorporating the intersections.

If your diversity training is called “Undoing Racism,” “Gender at Camp,” or any other identity-focused topic, it is not diversity training. That is a different type of training entirely and certainly has tons of merit. There are dozens of reasons we need to spend hours/days/years unpacking each of these issues and this is not a case against them.

Let’s take the “Undoing Racism” training as an example. If that’s the kind of training we are doing, then we know it is needed among our staff because we have collected the data. But, we need to think critically about our audience. If we are asking all of our staff to show up and engage fully, are all of them the target audience? To me, this sounds like a training intended for white staff members and therefore should not require racially and ethnically marginalized staff to attend.

Again, I take no issue with these types of training on their own. Creating affinity space for your white counselors to unpack their own racism without placing that burden on their peers sounds like a wonderful idea. But, the purpose of this type of diversity training is to get all of your staff into one space together, where camp culture can be created collectively, and we aren’t really doing that if one particular part of your staff feels uncomfortable, unwanted, or unengaged.

By examining the intersections and plurality of diversity, your training can both include as many people’s experiences as possible without putting an undue emotional burden on one group. In making people feel seen, we create space for participation that is communal, where everyone has something to offer. And, people can choose to disengage from a specific topic without missing the entire session. If a certain question/discussion/exercise is too difficult for one staff member because of their lived experience, they can step out of the session until you have changed gears and they feel it is safe for them to return.

In addition, incorporating topics from across many identities and experiences gives everyone the chance to learn something new. Unlike when focusing with a single identity-based lens, all participants in an intersectional training know there are new personal discoveries to be made because they are not an expert in every aspect of identity. When we put all our staff into one space to talk about diversity, keeping intersectionality at the forefront allows everyone to be a full participant as both a sharer (should they choose to do so) and as a learner.


With a focus on the why, facilitation, people’s skills, and the intersections of injustice, we’re on the path to leading a great diversity training. Being on the right track, however, is not the same as being completely prepared. There are lots of other things we need to consider (group agreements, content mastery, follow-up, etc.) that I have not touched on here. My smallest hope is that the reflections I’ve shared will encourage you to continually evaluate your diversity trainings and work to improve them. My greatest hope is that, through diversity training, we find one possible vehicle to center social justice in our communities and begin the hard cultural and structural work to transform our organizations.

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Dex Coen-GilbertDex Coen-Gilbert

Assistant Director & Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access Coordinator - Camp onas


Dex can be reached at dex@camponas.org.

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