Each February, the community teems with business-savvy Girl Scouts intent on selling as many of their beloved cookies as possible, whether it be at booths near storefronts, school campuses, online or with an old-fashioned ring of the doorbell.
Senior Girl Scout and Castilleja senior Marisol Meier is experienced in the cookie sale rush, but first she needs to sell her quota of wreaths for the Boy Scouts of America.
Just over two years ago, the BSA’s older youth program was renamed as the “Scouts BSA” and began welcoming female members into their ranks.
“The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women,” BSA Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh said on the official BSA website. “We strive to bring what our organization does best — developing character and leadership for young people — to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”
The decision would allow girls to earn the prestigious Eagle rank, which CNN said was more highly regarded than the Girl Scout equivalent, the Gold Award.
BSA also said that while the program is to be co-ed, the troops are not, because of their belief in the various benefits of single-gender education (being educated in an environment without the opposite sex), such as increased engagement. The decision took leadership positions into consideration, which girls would not be able to otherwise get due to starting in Scouts BSA years after most of the boys.
According to BSA, the “historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls” and “recent surveys of parents not involved with Scouting showed high interest in getting their daughters signed up for programs like Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, with 90% expressing interest in a program like Cub Scouts and 87% expressing interest in a program like Boy Scouts.”
They announced the change on October 11, 2017, the International Day of the Girl Child. According to the BSA, more than 77,000 female Cub Scouts and more than 8,000 female Scouts BSA members joined as of 2019.
At 10:02 AM on Oct. 11, 2017, NBC News correspondent Ken Dilanian tweeted, “NBC’s Pete Williams just broke the news that the Boy Scouts have decided to accept female scouts.”
That same day, Donald Trump Jr. retweeted with a “Strange, I thought that’s what the Girl Scouts was for???”
The change to include girls in the program did not come without controversy. Soon after the BSA made the announcement, many people expressed wariness of the reasons behind the change and doubt of its necessity.
According to Buzzfeed News, some saw the co-ed policy change as purely money-motivated, especially after the BSA’s crash in Mormon enrollment due to the change in their stance on the LGBTQ+ community.
In August 2017, Buzzfeed News obtained a letter from the Girl Scouts of the USA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan accusing BSA of a “covert campaign to recruit girls into programs run by the Boy Scouts,” with a Girl Scouts spokesperson calling the Scouts BSA program a “corporate hostile takeover” and a “membership push.”
Much of the dissent regards the prospect of change itself, as the BSA has been around for 110 years and formed a lot of traditions in the process.
“I think if people do take issue, they would take issue with the fact that traditions are being broken,” Meier said. “But they are being broken in such a way that allows more people to participate and actually experience the fun of Scouting.”
However, Paly freshman and female Scouts BSA member Vivian Wu said she hasn’t come across anyone voicing a problem with her troop. According to Wu, this may be partially due to Palo Alto’s rather liberal atmosphere.
“I think in this community in Palo Alto, I feel like not as many people had a problem with it,” Wu said. “But I can imagine because the Boy Scouts program is traditionally a very conservative sort of program, I can imagine in different places there would be some animosity.”
According to Troop 4057 Scoutmaster Alex Sox-Harris, any doubt among Scouts and parents didn’t last long.
“Some people might have been skeptical at first,” Sox-Harris said. “But after one year, I think the majority opinion is that all scouts benefit from the organization being more inclusive. Scouting is co-ed in most other countries. BSA was behind the curve, so kudos to them for making the change”
Last year, some of the parents of local Scouts troop 57 banded together to form sister troop 4057. In February of 2019, they kickstarted Palo Alto’s transition into the Scouts’ co-ed policy with 18 girls ranging from sixth to 11th grade.
“While we share many of the same families and we do some activities concurrently, we are two distinct Troops and Troop 4057 has its own Scoutmaster, Mr. Alex Sox-Harris,” Troop 57’s Scoutmaster Thomas Hsiu said.
Though the troops are separate, Sox-Harris said Troop 57’s support was invaluable to the formation of Troop 4057, both in laying a foundation of members and acting as a reference for troop infrastructure.
“Many of the families in Troop 57 had daughters who wanted the same adventures and experiences as their brothers,” Sox-Harris said. “Most of the founding families in T4057 had current or past scouts and adult leaders in (Troop 57).”
Meier and Wu are both part of Troop 4057, with Meier holding the position of Patrol Leader.
Wu joined the troop without ever taking part in Girl Scouts, which was a decision she made in accordance with her active lifestyle and interests.
“I wanted more outdoor adventure and to learn different skills I could use when I’m hiking and traveling, which is something that Girl Scouts doesn’t offer,” Wu said. “I know that there wasn’t that much outdoor adventure and time spent learning different skills in the Girls Scouts program.”
Meier began her scouting experience in first grade, right after a local Girl Scouts troop was formed, and climbed up the ranks to the Senior grade level. She is in both the Scouts BSA and the Girl Scout programs, which she says is a common occurrence in Troop 4057.
Meier said her brother influenced her decision to join the Scouts BSA program and also attributed the lack of outdoorsy activities offered in the Girl Scouts as the reasons why she decided to try the Scouts program.
“I was in Girl Scouts for a very long time,” Meier said. “I love my troop and I’ve almost always had pretty good experiences with Girl Scouts but I just wanted to do more hiking and adventure-type things. Also, my younger brother is in the troop and he was having a really fun time. I was always kind of jealous of his backpacking and camping so I was like, ‘Well, why not give it a try?,’ and I really enjoyed it.”
Sox-Harris said his daughter had similar reasons.
“My daughter is also involved in Girl Scouts and still enjoys it,” Sox-Harris said. “But she was jealous of all the cool things her brother was doing in BSA, like backpacking and rafting. She is also interested in becoming an Eagle Scout which really represents a high level of knowledge and personal achievement.”
According to Sox-Harris, the girls of Troop 4057 experience the same outdoorsy activities as Troop 57 and any other Scouts BSA program. The troop has grown into 2 patrols that hold individual meetings twice a month and have a joint meeting with Troop 57 once a month.
“Some of our trips and outings are separate, (like) our patrol outings, but some are together with the boys,” Sox-Harris said. “For example, our all-troop outing involves all 9 patrols. The girl patrols have their own campsites but we get together for hiking, campfire programs and other activities. Our troops also have outdoor activities and service projects almost every weekend. The girls of T4057 can participate as long as a registered female adult also attends.”
Alex Yun, Bellarmine College Preparatory sophomore and former Senior Patrol Leader of Scouts BSA Troop 57, says the girls’ and boys’ troops rarely interact due to the separation.
“Including girls didn’t change the boys’ troop’s culture (very) much,” Yun said. “They basically do their own thing at meetings we both go to and we have separate campsites at outings… On camping trips, boys cannot go into the girls’ campgrounds and vice versa, so I don’t think anyone’s had any real issues.”
He did, however, mention that the troops have had difficulty organizing their events due to the lack of development of the brand-new female Scouts program.
“When I was Senior Patrol Leader, there was a lot of confusion as to what exactly the girls troop was going to participate in with the boys troop,” Yun said. “Managing events was tricky because we had clearly defined leadership structure and they didn’t really have one yet. Admittedly, that was during the girls troop’s first full semester of existing, but I doubt the question of what role they play in the boys troop’s functions and vice versa have been fully addressed so far.”
Sox-Harris said the BSA provided them clear policies and guidance, but confirmed their initial struggle with planning.
“Scouts BSA is supposed to be scout led, with more experienced scouts teaching and leading the newer scouts,” Sox-Harris said. “But when we started, all the scouts were all new! One of the initial challenges was to figure out how to orient the girls to the process and culture of scouting and also provide the girls opportunities for leadership as soon as they were ready. Now after a year, the girls run the meetings and teach the newer scouts.”
Wu also said planning has improved over time.
“It was in the beginning stages, we were trying to figure out everything,” Wu said. “We were like the guinea pigs but we’ve figured it out, it’s running pretty smoothly now.”
Meier says it’s hard to compare Girl Scouts to Scouts BSA due to their foundational differences.
“A big difference is the way that you rank up,” Meier said. “In Girl Scouts, it just automatically happens as you get older… but with Scouts BSA, you actually complete tasks called rank requirements and you get them signed off by adults. (In addition), when you get older in Girl Scouts, there are things called journeys, which take days if not weeks to complete and are much bigger, whereas in Scouts BSA, it’s all just merit badges.”
Sophomore and Girl Scout Tara Kapoor said she’s perfectly satisfied with being in Girl Scouts without a dual enrollment in the Scouts program.
“I definitely have not considered joining Scouts BSA,” Kapoor said. “I have been a Girl Scout since kindergarten and I really enjoy it. I love selling cookies and learning a lot from the whole experience of being a Girl Scout, and I think Scouts BSA teach similar skills.”
According to Meier, being a girl in the Scouts BSA doesn’t have any significant downsides.
“I think boys are annoying,” Meier said jokingly. “That’s the only drawback that I’ve seen. (The Scoutmasters) do make a lot of effort to make sure that it’s equal and that everyone does get equal opportunities. Even with scouting events outside of my troop, there’s been a lot of inclusiveness and taking it in stride that girls are now participating in this activity, which I think is really nice.”
However, Wu mentioned that since the girls program is relatively new and fairly unknown, explaining her position can be frustrating.
“I feel like I get a lot of weird looks; people are confused and they don’t really understand,” Wu said.
Kapoor said she remains a staunch supporter of Girl Scouts.
“Both (programs) teach really important life skills,” Kapoor said. “(But) if you’re a girl and you want to join Girl Scouts, you don’t have to think that because Scouts BSA is an option, you shouldn’t join Girl Scouts. I think Girl Scouts is still a really amazing program, so I think it’s up to people (to decide on their own).”
Wu said she recommends Scouts BSA to those with similar interests to her and expects the troop to grow.
“We have more girls joining this year and I hope more girls are interested in the program,” Wu said. “If you like outdoor adventure, learning different skills that could be useful in the future and just want to try something new, (Scouts BSA is) definitely something worth exploring.”
Meanwhile, Meier advocates the benefits of joining both organizations.
“I don’t even think you have to transfer (to Scouts BSA completely),” Meier said. “You can be in both. There are definitely benefits to being in both; I would say that Boy Scouts is very fun and there’s a lot of things that you can learn from it. I know I definitely have.”
“It’s not an either-or choice,” Sox-Harris said. “Girls can benefit from the strengths of both programs, or choose the one that is a better fit.”