WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — One teenager’s experience at Purdue University’s Camp Dash “was very positive,” according to a West Lafayette mother whose son attended the camp geared toward testing the effects of a low-sodium diet.
“He was sad to leave,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect her son’s identity.
Complaints from other campers, however, included attempted rape, sexual assault, voyeurism and distribution of child pornography, prompting Purdue to cancel a summer camp and research project two weeks before its planned end date.
Campers were promised food, lodging, summer fun and $750 in exchange for their participation in the research project, which was designed to test the effects of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension — or DASH — diet on 11- to 15-year-old children.
But the camp closed — and its website and Facebook page were deleted — after several children came forward last week reporting they were sexually assaulted or otherwise violated by fellow campers inside Tarkington Hall, where they were housed, and other parts of campus.
The parent who spoke to the Journal & Courier said her son was required to submit two behavior references from his school and sign a code of conduct. She noted that kids were always with counselors, who were college students from Purdue or other universities, according to screenshots from Camp Dash’s recently deleted website.
While her son did witness a fight, the parent said his overall experience was positive and that he wishes to return next year if delinquency issues are addressed.
The parent noted her son was paid the full $750 although the camp was dismissed early.
In a statement on Monday, the university said: “Following disciplinary issues that occurred as part of Camp Dash, a summer residential camp for boys and girls that is hosted on campus, Purdue University determined it to be in the best interest of the camp participants to close the camp for its final two weeks.
“All campers returned to their homes on Friday. No further information will be released.”
Brian Zink, a spokesperson for Purdue, said campers came from homes all over the Midwest.
Darci James, a Benton County mother, said she was sickened by the news of criminal behavior, as she was considering summer camp for her two children, ages 5 and 8.
“It’s not something you can just go back and undo something that traumatic in your kid’s life,” James said, “so I’ve always been leery” of summer camp.
She added that she believes Purdue handled the issue correctly by removing several campers and closing the program early.
“I wouldn’t blame Purdue,” she said. “It sounds like they’re taking all the right steps to figure things out. They sent the kids home for their safety.”
Reach Journal & Courier reporter Joseph Paul at 765-420-5339.