I recently read a New York Times op-ed titled “Girls, Don’t Become Boy Scouts.” It was a response to Boy Scouts of America’s October 11th announcement to accept women and allow them to eventually earn the organization’s highest ranking of Eagle Scout. The article argues that while this decision may seem progressive, it is really just a business strategy. Boy Scouts of America has been struggling with a decreasing enrollment and multiple sex scandals that have tainted its reputation. Welcoming girls is an easy way to both improve its public image and its numbers. And what makes this business decision unprogressive is the potential harm it will cause to the Girl Scouts.
Many Americans think that the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts are similar organizations that simply cater to different genders, but in actuality they have two very different visions. The mission of Boy Scouts is to “prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices” while that of Girls Scouts is to “build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.” These varying missions translate into emphasizing different values. Only Girl Scouts teaches social justice, diversity and inclusion. While Boys Scouts has many religious ties and anti-atheist policies, Girl Scouts is secular and allows girls to replace the words “to serve God” in their oath, with any words of their choice. According to the article’s author, Kate Tuttle, Girls Scouts is a unique organization that has empowered many of today’s women, and “there’s nothing progressive about undercutting a venerable organization that serves girls.”
As I read the article, I wasn’t sure if I was convinced, that girls therefore shouldn’t even have the option of joining Boy Scouts if they wish to do so. However, I was definitively reminded of multiple conversations I have had, and overheard, concerning Stern College for Women. The discussion always bemoans the fact the it is a single sex institution and dreams of how wonderful the YU undergraduate experience would be if the men and women’s school would merge into one. This new school would of course be built at a remote location, allowing for a spacious college campus. I always get excited by this idea, but reading about the threat that a co-ed Boys Scouts poses to Girl Scouts, helped me realize that my excitement partially reflects a failure to recognize the many unique aspects of Stern College.
A women’s only college is often considered a sanctuary of sorts, free of the typical “glass ceiling” women constantly face. Studies have shown how students of women’s colleges have higher levels of self-esteem, feel more comfortable speaking in class, hold more leadership roles, and continue to receive more graduate degrees than their peers at co-ed institutions. The underlying philosophy is that such schools will also eventually help women take full advantage of the equality that is achievable when they reenter the co-ed work world. As a student of Stern College, I believe that all these advantages are presented to our school’s students.
Yet, as an Orthodox Jewish school, Stern College’s single sex status also plays another role. Orthodox Jewish men and women are different according to halakha. While they may hold the same position in the workplace, they will never occupy identical roles in their communities. Thus, there is an added benefit to the women’s only status of Stern College. It allows for a certain honesty in experience through providing Orthodox women with their own school, where they are forced to confront and contemplate the dichotomy of being identical to men in many aspects of their lives, but not in others.
Moreover, Stern College’s single sex status does not only provide an empowering and thought-provoking experience to its students. It also comes to honor a cultural sensitivity. For religious reasons, many students of Stern College are uncomfortable in co-educational environments. However, other students find educational benefit and enjoyment from such learning spaces. Through functioning as a women’s only college with co-ed clubs and activities, Stern College balances both needs. In this manner it not only exposes its students to a diverse group of peers in terms of differences in religiosity; it also pushes its women to respect each other’s religious and cultural sensitivities.
There is far more that differentiates Stern College. Its dual curriculum allows students to explore their heritage and identity while simultaneously studying the humanities or sciences. The school’s location in midtown offers its student easy access to some of the world’s best theaters, nightlife, and museums. The faculty is overwhelmingly caring, and the small class sizes allow students to forge relationships with their teachers.
Of course, all this does not preclude the many new and exciting opportunities that a merger between YC and Stern College would create. Yet, it is still important to celebrate Stern College for Women in whatever form it does exist. And in my opinion, The Observer is the place where this celebration occurs most.
In the pages of The Observer, one can read about the school’s newest faculty members, policy changes, expanding departments, housing initiatives, or cultural events that are taking place near the Beren campus. Each month in our “From the President’s Desk” column, we highlight the president of a club or council so that students can better know their student leaders. The Observer offers every student an opportunity to meet the diverse women of Stern College through opinion articles about school policies they disagree with, sexism at YU, impactful books, orthodox feminism, or their reactions to world events. This allows readers of The Observer to gain a more intimate and deeper understanding of the school and their community. It is a celebration of the school through news briefs, feature articles and opinion pieces filled with pride or constructive critique.
As with the Girls Scouts, it is important to recognize the individuality of our own women’s only environment. So, join us is celebrating Stern College for Women through sharing your criticisms or you praise, investigating a policy you find unusual, interviewing a faculty member you love, or just reading The Observer to acquire a deeper understanding of what makes our school so unique.