Hidden Villa Camp Closes for Summer After Staffers Quit Over Swastika Scandal

A camp in California known to be socially and environmentally conscious was abruptly canceled for an entire summer after several employees quit due to alleged racism.

Now, more than 900 campers will have to find another way to spend their summer vacation.

“This is the first time in our history that we have canceled all Camp programs,” a letter to Hidden Villa community read Wednesday. “Staffing for Camp has been a challenge over the past few years. As expected, we have invested significantly in outreach, but are still struggling to meet programmatic needs. ”

The letter, signed by board chairman Peter Hartzell and interim chief executive Philip Arca, explains that although the camp has faced staff shortages in recent years, a new wave of resignations appeared after disagreement over the swastika symbol.

Follow Los Altos Town Crier, Bay Area camps typically employ between 40 and 50 employees per season. But this summer, there are only 28 people on the list.

The hidden mansion – home to a camp, hiking trail and ranch – once belonged to Frank and Josephine Duveneck, according to the camp’s statement. During the couple’s honeymoon to Asia in 1913, they brought back and hung art bricks featuring lotus flowers and Buddhist symbols, including the swastika, which were later appropriated by the Nazis. after World War I to represent white supremacy.

“The community has noticed that Buddhist symbols are experienced differently and that some individuals have been harmed by their presence on the building. A process to resolve the issue has been identified with Staff and Council,” the letter, which was posted on the camp’s website, reads.

According to the letter, the camp held a meeting and decided to remove the symbols from public view on Monday, and they disappeared on Tuesday. Still, the employees chose to resign on Sunday — before any action was taken.

The camp also shared the news on its official Facebook page, where community members were quick to share their thoughts and well wishes.

“I am very sad to hear this news and the reasons behind it. I was a camper in the 1960s,” posted Alan McInnes. “[T]then his camps were extremely diverse and inclusive. I have been exposed to a number of children of different ethnicities and social backgrounds that I would not have otherwise experienced. It helped expand my young developing mind. … I hope that these problems can be overcome as Hidden Villa is an important resource for education and entertainment in these challenging times. ”

“Nazi saw the swastika as a symbol of evil, and removed it from Asian cultures. The decision to remove these tiles may or may not be correct,” Bob Pang speak. “I personally feel this is an opportunity to explain the deeply religious and spiritual history of this symbol to campers and help remove the negative stigma associated with it. It is possible that this is not possible, and the symbol will forever be unclean and a source of suffering for individuals in Western countries.

The Los Altos Town Crier reported that camp director Philip James, who was black, had quit his job because of alleged institutional racism and also a swastika problem.

Assistant camp director Mimi Elias, who is black and quirky, told the newspaper, “Every day I have to go to my accommodation and have to look at the swastikas and walk underneath them.” She also resigned.

The departure highlights “the need for the organization to continue to pause, reflect, and further develop action plans to address racial equity concerns shared by employees,” the statement said. written letter. “Honoring and welcoming people from all backgrounds at Hidden Villa is core to who we are and what we stand for. Any pain that our current and former employees, especially any Employees of Color, have felt during their tenure at the organization, is deeply distressing for us. We are committed to creating an environment where everyone feels seen, welcomed and heard. ”

Hidden Villa management concluded the letter with an oath that the camp would continue to invest in racial equity in terms of staff training, but would also push harder for cultural inclusion.

“The decision to cancel the Camp has been heartbreaking and staff are still providing care for all involved,” the letter concluded. “We will continue to meet internally to map out the next steps to address these issues, restore the health of our community process, and we will share the plan with you.”

Although some in the Hidden Villa community are disappointed by the camp’s closure but remain supportive, others doubt the camp will see any social improvement.

“As a former employee, it seems the whole story is not shared here,” Kendra Moss Saffie Written. “It is sad that the public receives a story that seems to blame employees, while the structure of inequality and lack of support for employees from the top up has not really been fully discussed. .”

“[Y]You know how hard it is for all those parents and kids to get another good camping spot this late? The camps will fill up in January around here. HV campsites usually fill up the same day registration opens. You ruined those families, and they are hard to forget. And you deserve the consequences,” Deborah Grönke Bennett Written.

Hidden Villa started humanitarian programs in 1924, according to Organization’s website. Along with hosting summer camps, Hidden Villa has a range of events for kids to learn about animals, agriculture, activities, and historical social issues. Hidden Villa credits itself with creating the first interracial summer camp, the first residential neighborhood, and providing shelter to Japanese Americans during World War II. Social justice is highlighted on Hidden Villa’s Facebook page, including LGBTQ+ awareness, Black History Month, and Cesar Chavez’s civil rights initiatives.

Although the outside of the camp social progressive ideologySome former campers and staff believe that inequality lies in its system.

“So your statement is to completely blame the staff for the cancellation?? Accountable to your malicious white supremacy,” Alex Roth-Dunn posted on Facebook.

“The problem is A LOT MUCH more than some of the tiles in the Duveneck house. Your focus on that in the letter is funny and so old-fashioned,” said the former employee Eve Javey. “Hidden Villa leadership and top management have continued to create an unsafe space for transgender and colored employees year after year. I tried to bring this to the top of the conversation when I worked there and in return, I was bullied and told I was the one with the problem.”

Hidden Villa declined to comment to The Daily Beast, but said their biggest priority at the moment is taking care of its camp community.

“There is so much pain that we need to deal with,” the organization wrote.

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