JoAnne texted me the news and I finally got a chance to read the whole article today. I am a fan of Girl Scouts, I truly am. I think it is a very good organization and if used thoughtfully, girls can really gain a lot from the program. There are way more positive than negatives. After over 100 years though, just like our beloved country it has plenty of improvements to make.
It is good to see after 100 years they hired their first Latina CEO, the first black CEO and now the first Asian although they referred to her as the first AAPI hire – hope that does not mean they marked the diversity bingo card and feel now they can move on. LOL. Honestly, I’m happy to see Girl Scouts make changes. Change takes time and it is hard and it is brave because you know you will be under a microscope while you do it.
Diversity is not is not just about having leaders of “color” or having a troop of girls from all over the world. Diversity is about attitude and compassion. This last paragraph of the article really got me thinking: “Girl Scouts bring their dreams to life and work together to build a better world. Through programs from coast to coast, Girl Scouts of all backgrounds and abilities can be unapologetically themselves as they discover their strengths and rise to meet new challenges—whether they want to climb to the top of a tree or the top of their class, lace up their boots for a hike or advocate for climate justice, or make their first best friends. Backed by trusted adult volunteers, mentors, and millions of alums, Girl Scouts lead the way as they find their voices and make changes that affect the issues most important to them. To join us, volunteer, reconnect, or donate, visit girlscouts.org.”
“Can be UNAPOLOGETICALLY themselves” really hit home for me. I have to say that when I was in scouts this was not true. My troop leader looked at me like I was a speck of dirt on her very clean white rug. She barely talked to me. I was so innocent I had no idea at the time that her behavior was gross because sadly, that was the way I was treated as a norm. I am happy to say my ignorance kept me from feeling like shit back then. I was just so happy to be around other girls and do something, anything different than my boring home routine, I think I would have sold my soul to be there. But even in my innocence I realized “I did not belong”. The girls did not know how to talk to me or how to help me feel included becasue there was no leadership from the TOP DOWN in GSUSA about truly including everyone. They had never met anyone like me and they were not thrilled about it either. They were still kind, but it was the type of kindness you see when rich people feed the poor for optics. They are doing it but they feel really uncomfortable. They had learned to not make fun of the handicapped, the poor, the undereducated. . .but they were not inclusive of people that were not christians, foreign born, mixed heritage, etc.
I think what makes Girl Scouts unique is also its downfall. They depend so much on volunteers that they cannot vet every adult who leads a troop. This means for every JoAnne there are at least 10 racist, homophobic, overly religious, anti mental health nut, etc. running troops all over the country. I am lucky that my youngest had a fairly good leader. She had her problems like all of us but she was very inclusive and being a former Kindergarten teacher really helped. We live in the biggest county in the state so diversity is a bit more common here. Still, each troop can and does sometimes block people who are different from them from joining. It is sad really.
Each Girl’s experience heavily depends on their leaders. I do not know many girls at these young ages that are brave enough or aware enough to say to themselves, “I think this troop is not holding up the true spirit of Girl Scouts. I need to tell someone”. So the cycle continues. If the leader is intelligent, in tune with current kids, understands the importance of diversity – that troop gets a great experience and grows. If the leader is a bigoted, racist who only believes Christians should be in Girl Scouts, that troop will emulate her. Even if the leader is not OBVIOUS her attitudes and feelings will leak into the troop. So you get the positive with the negative. Since the organization does not strongly vet the leaders the parents must. I also think that leaders need more professional training. I went through the initial training and it is not very good. We are so desperate for leaders that we just push them along.
I was made to feel very guilty when I brought some of these issues up with one of my girls’ leaders. One said to put up or shut up meaning I should volunteer. She even knew that I was her co leader in the past and currently could not due to other serious obligations. So she pretty much thought if you want a “different” troop you should lead one yourself. That was from the really “good leader”. With my oldest girl who has been in scouts since she was in Kindergarten we switched troops three times and finally gave up. Both girls are Julietting and JoAnne is kind enough to help because she is an amazing leader.
An ALL WHITE, ALL Southern troop can still learn and practice diversity without having girls of other cultures in the troop. Sometimes geographically there are NO other girls to attract to the troop. However, EVERY troop can and should help these young women understand differences to teach social justice through age-appropriate literature, news stories, anti-bias lessons, familiar examples, and problem solving. So far all I have seen is that my girls have been taught to love one another no matter how different they are rather than celebrating how different they are and learning to appreciate them.
You can not love or respect things you do not understand. Diversity is no different. Even 2 and 3 year olds will start to see that boys and girls are different, may begin noticing obvious physical disabilities, become curious about skin color and hair color/texture, and may also be aware of ethnic identity. Research shows if young children are exposed to prejudice and racism, they tend to embrace and accept it even though they don’t even understand it. So yeah, Girl Scout troops can be very influential in the development of these young ladies.
It is never too late to unlearn bias, thankfully. It’s just harder the older they are. I still have adult friends and even my husband who will ask me questions. I am happy to answer them but I can tell sometimes they just can’t understand. It is difficult to understand what another person has been through if you have never been through it yourself. But you can still have empathy and patience. It is hard to try to teach others about racial inequalities – you may be met with defensiveness and even anger by the very people who tell you they want to “get it”.
I do not expect GSUSA to suddenly become a complete different entity. It is mostly a great association. I would love to see them let go of the religious aspect so they can include atheist and other non GOD worshipping girls. Instead of feeling like we are “allowed” to be a part of Girl Scouts it would really feel inclusive. I would love to see GS traveling to different parts of the US like inner cities and cities and towns that have cultures that are very different from their own. Maybe a troop in Miami could visit Little Town, NC or vice versa. A troop from Alabama could go to California. They should not just sight see but actually go to a meeting and maybe do some volunteering in the community so they can get first hand knowledge of true diversity.
I am proud to say both my girls are Girl Scouts. I think they have mostly been positively impacted by the program. However, it took me being very active. While I was only an official leader for two years, an approved parent volunteer for 5 years, I was always listening and going to meetings and being aware of what was being taught to my girls. That is what all parents should do, right? I will hope that the GS organization will continue to work on diversity and growing and being brave so their girls can too.
Whether you are a Girl Scout CEO, leader, volunteer, mom or scout – have those hard conversations, ask questions and be open to listening without getting defensive so that we can truly change.