Creating a home for every student

  • Arts Camp 2019 students showcase a hand-made banner that promotes religious, racial, national, and gender equality.

  • Jennifer Wesling (left) and Tim Baase (right) in front of the Interlochen Bowl.

This summer, Interlochen Arts Camp will change its division names to reflect the full diversity of its students’ gender identities.

The updated division names are as follows, with Camp divisions on the east side of M-137 renamed “Pines” and divisions on the west side of the highway known as “Lakeside” and “Meadows”:

  • High School Boys will become High School Pines
  • High School Girls will become High School Lakeside
  • Intermediate Boys will become Intermediate Pines
  • Intermediate Girls Lakeside will become Intermediate Lakeside
  • Intermediate Girls Meadows will become Intermediate Meadows
  • Junior Boys will become Junior Pines
  • Junior Girls will become Junior Lakeside

The change is the result of a seven-year movement to create a more inclusive experience for Arts Camp students who identify as nonbinary or transgender—a movement that Camp Dean of Students Jennifer Wesling says was long overdue.

“Every year, we would always have a few students who shared that they were nonbinary or transgender,” Wesling said. “Until 2013, our policy was to house them by their legal gender. We tried to be as sensitive as we could, but we hadn’t made any formal statements or decisions to meet the needs of these students.”

After Camp 2013, Wesling interviewed a transgender student about his experience at Interlochen. “I talked extensively with him, and he really did a lot to help me become educated about the needs of our transgender students,” she said.

Inspired by the interviews, Wesling began drafting a proposal to offer more comprehensive housing options for transgender and nonbinary students. She presented it to then-president Jeffrey Kimpton at the end of 2013.

“It was maybe a three minute conversation,” Wesling said. “He said, ‘Why aren’t we already doing this?’ It was a no-brainer for him. I knew I had the support I needed to move forward.”

One of the keys of Wesling’s proposal was the creation of a gender-inclusive cabin in each of the high school divisions for Arts Camp 2014. But with cabin space at a premium, this posed its own challenge.

“We never [had] enough nonbinary or transgender students to fill a cabin,” Wesling said. “We needed to fill the rest of the beds in the cabins with students who were welcoming and willing to live in an inclusive environment.”

Wesling added a checkbox to the Camp 2014 housing form, asking students to indicate if they would feel comfortable living in a cabin with transgender or nonbinary students. “I told myself, ‘we just need 10 people to check that box.’ We had dozens check it.”

The success of the 2014 high school cabin led to the creation of nonbinary intermediate and junior cabins in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Each year, Wesling and her Camp leadership team have continued to polish the process of finding the best-fit housing arrangement for each transgender or nonbinary student. Since 2017, she has been aided by Assistant Director of Student Affairs Tim Baase, who serves as the key contact for nonbinary or transgender students and their families.

In 2019, Wesling and Baase developed changes to the Camp uniform that would revise the traditional socks-for-girls, belts-for-boys binary. Under the new uniform policy, students are free to wear whichever color-coded identifier they prefer. Corduroy knickers and pants are now available to all students, regardless of gender.

As Wesling and Baase discussed the uniform, the division names themselves came into question. “We realized that we can’t be ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ anymore,” Wesling said. “Those labels just didn’t work any longer in light of the changes we had worked so hard to implement.”

Following a discussion with Camp division directors about potential new names, Wesling pitched the revised division names to Provost Camille Colatosti. With Colatosti’s approval, the proposal advanced to President Trey Devey. Devey gave it a resounding endorsement: The new names advance the decades-long commitment to inclusivity that has made Interlochen a home for generations of students, faculty, and staff.

The change won’t happen overnight, or even by the time students arrive for Arts Camp 2020. “It’s going to be a very gentle transition,” Wesling said. “It’s going to take a couple of years to get everything in place: signage, maps, flags, even email addresses and labels on computers.”

Still, Interlochen leads many camps in progress made to foster an inclusive environment. “At summer camp conferences, early on, our peers were often suprised to hear that we were already offering accommodations for nonbinary and transgender students,” Wesling said. “ We get calls and emails from other camps all the time. Everyone wants to know how we did it and how it went. We found that students and their families were overwhelmingly supportive of the decision—a powerful affirmation of the welcoming, inclusive community we have built here at Interlochen. ”

Ultimately, Wesling and her team want to ensure that all students are able to enjoy the true magic of Interlochen: A safe and supportive community of like-minded peers. “Our commitment has always been to create the best experience that we can possibly offer for every student,” she said.

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