Bahai News -- The Salt Lake Tribune - Learning What It Means to Be a Member of the Human Family

Learning What It Means to Be a Member of the Human Family


I always thought of myself as a typical teenager. I go to school, do homework, hang out with my friends and count down the days to the weekend. I laughed when my friends cracked "blonde" jokes and it wasn't unusual to hear heterosexist slurs mixed in with our daily conversations.

It didn't phase me to walk through my school and hear phrases like "that's so gay" or "you are so retarded." It was all too common to me, as it is to most teenagers.

Still, I always considered myself to be open-minded. My circle of friends includes Mormons, Muslims, atheists, Latinos, wealthy kids, poor kids and those whose parents are married and divorced. I used to think that was enough.

Then I went to Camp Unitown.

My English teacher had always hyped the camp, but it wasn't until I was asked by some friends from my school to participate that I decided to see what all the buzz was about. Unitown is held at Camp Tuttle, located in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

While there, students address each of the eight "isms" -- ageism, faithism, appearancism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism and racism. They attempt to break down prejudice and oppression through lectures, skits, open dialogue and role-play exercises. But this doesn't begin to explain the effect Camp Unitown has on its participants.

From the day you arrive at Camp Tuttle, you leave your guise at the door and learn to let down your guard. Students from my school whom I had never met before confided in me and I in them. I saw friends and strangers break down crying in front of a crowd of 70 people, sharing raw details about their irregular pasts.

On gender night, for example, young men acknowledged they were victims of abuse. Females sobbed during our discussion on weight, appearance and worth. For the final exercise, we lined up facing each other and tried to say goodbye without using words. We held each others' hands and looked into each others' eyes. Our tears told us how much we would miss one another. By putting ourselves out there, we found comfort and trust. Perhaps this is why there is such a positive atmosphere at camp. I felt more comfortable around some of these people than I do around friends and relatives I have known my entire life.

While tears were abundant, so was the fun. Cabin groups went snowshoeing, hiking and sledding in some of Utah's most stunning scenery. We listened to music and played cards and performed in skits. When I got home I felt great about myself and realized how dull and unfulfilling my everyday life seemed compared to my experience at Unitown.

School was different, too. I was disgusted by the bigoted comments and said so. Some of my best friends were compromising everything that I had learned at camp, and I let them know it. Camp Unitown empowered me to be an ally and to do the right thing.

Because of Camp Unitown, I am no longer a typical teenager. I am much more aware of the world around me and of the people who live in it. I've learned to respect the opinions of others, whether I agree or not. I have made new friends and been introduced to new religions such as the Bahai faith.

More important, I am motivated to do my part to eliminate oppression. I now understand why they say that Unitown isn't just a camp, it's a way of life.


Mitch Fantin is a junior at Highland High School, where he is photo editor and a writer for the school newspaper. He is the son of Salt Lake Tribune reporter Linda Fantin.

©Copyright 2003, The Salt Lake Tribune (UT, USA)

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