A group of YouTubers sent to Coachella by the fashion app Dote are claiming that all of the influencers who are women of color were segregated into one room of the made-for-Instagram house.
Two of the influencers who stayed in the house detailed to BuzzFeed News all of the ways they felt "slightly separated" from their white peers while on the sponsored Coachella trip, which was cheekily branded by the company as "Dotechella."
Their main claim is that the fashion startup put the four women of color on the trip in one side of the house and the white women in another. Dote has denied to BuzzFeed News that it intentionally assigned women of color to a separate wing of the house.
"To address the rumors about a recent Dote trip, the claim that one side of the house was designated to women of color is simply untrue," the company stated. "Young women of all backgrounds were assigned to rooms throughout the house and everyone had beds to sleep in."
The influencers, however, say their beds were clearly marked with their names when they arrived, and no one moved beds.
The controversy began to unfold after one of the influencers sent by Dote to Coachella published a video titled "The Truth About Coachella Ft. Mental Breakdown" immediately following the trip in April.
YouTuber Daniella Perkins summarized her experience in a vlog and included footage of herself crying while in the Dote house.
In between tears, Perkins, 18, tells the camera that she "just feel[s] so awkward" and "so uncomfortable" being in the house.
"I just felt like I was back in school ... and feeling so different and out of place and like I don't belong," she said in different footage she recorded after the trip explaining her "mental breakdown."
Perkins, who's also an actor, told BuzzFeed News she felt "very excluded" throughout her stay at the Dote house.
"I made the video because I wanted to share my experience. I always want to be honest," she said. "I’ve worked with so many companies before and I've never had this experience."
She's adamant that none of the bed assignments were changed.
"If you watched [all the girls'] Instagram stories, it shows the exact beds and nothing was moved around," she said.
Perkins' video inspired other creators to look more closely at the sponsored vlogs coming out of the Coachella Dote house.
One of these YouTubers, ItzKeisha, an 18-year-old based in London whose real name is Keisha Shadè Akinyemi, told BuzzFeed News she "was inspired to film [her own] video" right after watching Perkins' video.
She said she immediately empathized with Perkins in "feeling different around the other girls," she said.
Akinyemi said she then watched vlogs from other houseguests and noticed different sleeping arrangements between nonwhite guests and white guests. She talks through some of these differences in a lengthy video she titled "Where Is the DIVERSITY on YouTube?"
"I showed some examples of this issue in my video and outlined the simple fact that the minorities were treated worthless compared to the white girls on the trip," she said. "The bedrooms for Vereena, Daniella, Eris, and Dymond were truly horrific as it looked like they were sleeping on tiny couches."
One of these YouTubers, 15-year-old Vereena Sayed of Temecula, California, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the beds were not couches but were pullout beds. Dote also stressed that "everyone had beds to sleep in."
She was hesitant to say if their beds and room felt inferior to those the other houseguests stayed in.
She did, however, say, "As a minority, you've gone through things, and it's easy to pick up on things. ... The other girls, they had master bedrooms with king-size beds."
Sayed noted that she and her roommates also all had to share one bathroom.
"It was too much of a coincidence that all of the minorities were on one side of the house," she added.
Sayed's feelings of discomfort went beyond the rooming assignments. She said she felt "really uncomfortable" throughout the three-day Coachella stay, starting from the day she arrived.
"The girls in my room had become friends; we stood by each other [but] we weren’t really communicating to anyone else. No one would reach out," she said of the other houseguests, including Dote employees who came in to shepherd the girls around and coordinate press coverage.
Both Perkins and Sayed told BuzzFeed News it was the photo shoots that made them feel especially "separated."
"They shot all the white girls together and then all the minorities together — it felt very weird," she said. "I started to feel more uncomfortable."
According to Perkins, she and the other guests of color were waiting around the house one day when they looked outside and saw the rest of the girls in the same bathing suits posing for photos.
"We were told nothing; we were left out of the whole situation," said Perkins.
"I felt out of place. We felt very excluded," Sayed said, adding that she doesn't blame the white influencers for the way she felt.
"It was definitely the way that Dote set it up," she said.
Over the past two weeks, other channels began covering the controversy, only fanning the flames of public backlash on the platform.
Earlier this week, Dote released a statement that was attributed to founder Lauren Farleigh on Instagram.
"We're devastated to hear that girls on one of our trips felt that they were treated differently because of their race. I want to make sure you all know that we did not — and would never — intentionally group girls together based on any racial characteristics," she wrote.
Farleigh vowed that the company is "committed to doing better" and is in the "process of gathering all of the details of what happened so we can create an action plan to make sure it doesn't happen ever again."
When asked Thursday about the status of Dote's findings on "what happened," a spokesperson did not provide any new details or information.
"We let logistical challenges of coordinating trips distract us from what we should have been focused on: realizing our vision of facilitating experiences where young women of all backgrounds feel included and comfortable expressing themselves," the spokesperson said.
The company shared an additional Instagram post Thursday promising to "improve diversity at Dote" and included screenshots of user suggestions for how to do so.
Perkins and Sayed said they were grateful overall for the opportunity to go on a sponsored Coachella trip, but they also said they don't believe the missteps were accidental or isolated occurrences for the company.
Sayed said that on a previous Dote-fronted trip to Disneyland, she was the only nonwhite influencer invited.
"I felt out of place. ... It was kind of weird for them to throw me in there," she said.
In regards to the Coachella debacle, Perkins feels that intentionality isn't the issue.
"There wouldn’t be a situation if they truly cared that everyone felt OK and equal. ... I feel if you're setting up rooms and you're putting [names] on beds, you're going to notice. Maybe because they're all white, they didn't notice they're putting minority girls on a different side.
"Things like that, you should be aware of," she added.