The Exploration Summer Camp, which offers a program for high school students on Yale’s campus, promises its campers academic enrichment and recreational opportunity. But for several campers who attended last summer’s session, the program provided much more than what they bargained for: forbidden interaction between the sexes, solitary confinement, and now a lawsuit.
The camp, which is not directly affiliated with the University, began leasing space from Yale for its program for the first time last summer. But the event that sparked the controversy — and lawsuit — was something that would be perfectly innocuous for a typical Yale student.
A girl walked into the Old Campus dorm room of three male campers to retrieve a ring she had given to one of the boys for safekeeping. A camp counselor outside the building witnessed the visit, which was a violation of the camp’s policy forbidding women from entering all-male dorm areas, and vice versa.
After the counselor reported the incident to the program’s dean of students, all four of the campers involved were expelled — prompting aggrieved parents to take legal action against the camp.
Glen MacDonald, whose son Kevin was one of the four expelled students, said he he was at home in New Jersey when he received a phone call from the camp at 12:45 a.m. on the night of the incident. The camp informed him that his son had been dismissed and that he needed to pick him up immediately.
MacDonald said he wanted to resolve the situation in a manner that would allow his son to remain at camp, like giving him probation or suspending his privileges, but the camp would not discuss options short of expulsion, so after three days, his son returned home. He said he felt Kevin did not violate any camp rules, but that even if this incident could be claimed as a violation, it did not warrant the type of punishment his son received.
“My son was in the presence of a student who violated [camp policy], and that was supposed to be enough,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald said his son urged the girl not to come into the room, but that she entered despite his protests. He added that the girl was in the room for less than a minute, and that there was no sexual interaction between any of the campers. The father also said that the counselor who was present saw the girl enter the dormitory, but made no effort to discourage the offending behavior.
“In my opinion, the camp exercised bad judgment in the way they treated the students and the way they applied this draconian punishment,” MacDonald said.
He also said that the camp made his son feel ostracized by confining him to separate living quarters in McClellan Hall and forbidding other campers from talking to him for the three days between his expulsion and his arrival at home.
Now, after failing to reach a settlement out of court, MacDonald and the parents of another camper are waging a legal battle against Exploration Summer Camp. MacDonald has enlisted the legal expertise of his brother Scott, a Middletown lawyer, and is seeking a refund of the $3,200 tuition, as well as punitive damages for “breach of contract, false imprisonment and negligent infliction of emotional distress.”
Scott MacDonald, who is currently drafting a complaint, said that this incident could have been resolved short of litigation, but that the camp did not offer any sort of resolution.
“We believe this was first of all vicarious punishment, and second, we think the punishment imposed was above and beyond the bounds of reasonableness for the purported infraction,” Scott MacDonald said. “This was an overreaction and imposition of penalty that was way beyond what the situation demanded.”
Diane Scott, the director of Exploration’s Senior Program, said she was unaware of the MacDonald’s pending lawsuit and declined to comment on any individual incidents regarding campers or their families.
“We strongly respect the privacy and confidentiality of families,” Scott said.
But she did add that the MacDonalds filed a complaint with Yale Police concerning the treatment of their son and that police found no merit to their complaint.
Susan Adler, Yale’s director of conference services, said she knew very little about the incident. She emphasized that the matter is between the students and their parents and the summer camp, and that Yale “does not have an internal relationship with the camp’s affairs.”
The Exploration Summer Camp’s Senior Program offers two three-week summer programs for students entering 10th through 12th grades and provides academic classes as well as extracurricular activities. According to their Web site, the program tells students that the Senior Program enables them to “make the most of [their] individual choices.”