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Lone black counselor at Boy Scout camp calls for changes after he’s given ‘Evil Monkey’ award

Eagle Scout and former Boy Scout counselor Chris Vogel.
Eagle Scout and former Boy Scout counselor Chris Vogel. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Chris Vogel joined the Boy Scouts in first grade, became an Eagle Scout in high school, and recruited African-American Scouts in Brockton, as part of the organization’s efforts to diversify its ranks. At Boy Scout camp last summer, the camp doctor said Vogel was so dedicated he donned a hazmat suit to fish a camper’s cellphone and clothes out of a dumpster.

That’s why Vogel, 27, said he was devastated by what happened on Aug. 11, 2018, at the end-of-summer banquet at Camp Squanto in Plymouth. Camp leaders, standing in front of 70 other counselors, senior Scout leaders, and campers, gave Vogel, the only black staffer, the “Evil Monkey” award. It was part of an annual camp tradition of mock merit badges and awards that he and others argue frequently crossed the line into offensive material.

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Another staffer, the camp disciplinarian, was given the “Nantucket Nazi” award, according to Vogel and Dr. James Green, the camp doctor. The previous summer, male staffers were given pebbles named for the female counselors they had dated or wanted to date, which some campers saw as rewards for male sexual conquests.

Vogel said he wants such disparaging treatment to stop.

He said that after camp leaders failed to respond to him directly last summer, he filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which is slated for a private hearing this month. Vogel said he wants the Boy Scouts to apologize, fire the staffers responsible for the “Evil Monkey” award, require racial sensitivity training, and pay him damages of $100,000, which he hopes will send a message to the broader organization.

“I want them to understand this can’t happen again,” Vogel said in an interview in his attorney’s office in Weymouth, with Green by his side.

Bryan Feather, chief executive of the Boy Scouts’ Mayflower Council, which runs the camp, said that after Vogel complained, the organization abolished the awards ceremony, spoke to the staffers responsible, and instituted sensitivity training. He said the council has also sought to communicate an apology to Vogel through its attorneys.

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“Obviously, discrimination does not fall within the precepts of scouting, and we have taken steps to ensure those type of things don’t happen again,” said Feather, who was at the banquet.

Green, the camp’s health officer for the last three years, said the awards ceremony, which dates back decades, seemed to fly in the face of the camp’s goal of creating a safe space for young people, free from the bullying or harassment they may have experienced in school.

“Traditions are fine when they build character in a correct way,” Green said. “But I think people knew a long while ago there was going to be a problem here and nobody stepped up.”

He said he was troubled that the “Evil Monkey” name wasn’t just an off-the-cuff idea but written down by Scout leaders on a long list of off-color “awards” they read aloud that night.

“They give everyone a fake nickname as a joke, but this wasn’t a joke,” said Brady Arruda, a 16-year-old counselor, who was at the banquet. “It wasn’t funny. It didn’t fit. I was confused, and shocked.”

Vogel said he was also stunned, and had to check with Green later that night to make sure he had heard the name of his “award” correctly.

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“It didn’t make any sense to me, especially with the Scout executive sitting in the front row,” Vogel said. “His job is to make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen. But he didn’t speak up, or put an end to it, or anything like that.”

After Vogel’s complaints to Scout leaders were ignored last summer, he spoke to Robert O. Trestan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Trestan sent a letter to Feather last October urging him to investigate the “Nantucket Nazi” and “Evil Monkey” awards, calling them “offensive, insulting, and indicative of poor judgment by camp officials.”

Vogel said he remains a dues-paying Boy Scout, loyal to his home troop in Weymouth, but will not return to Camp Squanto. The award, he said, was not the only time he felt he was treated differently at the camp because he is black.

One nurse always seemed to be yelling at him, he said, even when he called for her help for an injured Scout at the waterfront.

And when two black Scouts he had brought from Brockton got into a knife fight, they were investigated and expelled, he said. But when another Scout threatened two of his Scouts with a knife, no action was taken by camp leaders, he said.

“They have their inner circle, and if you’re not part of that inner circle, they kind of look at you as an outsider,” Vogel said. “You’re either one of them, or you’re not.”

Asked about those incidents, Feather said he had not been made aware of any other discriminatory practices.

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Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.