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Research on Scouting

I am currently conducting a large research project studying how young people experience gender, sexual orientation, and citizenship in scouting, including the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA).  Both organization's main mission is to raise future leaders and good citizens.  But, we also know that in order to feel capable of being good citizens, youth must feel welcome and empowered.  This research seeks to better understand how youth--especially marginalized youth--feel about inclusion and citizenship training in scouting.  Some of the primary research questions are:

•How does a youth’s gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation inform their scouting experience and their opinions about citizenship? 

•How are mixed-gender versus single-gender spaces experienced by youth? Do these different spaces send different messages about citizenship?

•How are trans and LGB youth included (or not) and what impact does that have on their ideas about citizenship?

•What resources/tools do leaders need? Do youth need?

I plan to publish this research in books and journal articles, but I will also be created some "Best Practices" documents that can be used by scouting groups to improve the experience of scouting for all people.  I tend to get lots of very good questions about this research so I've created a FAQ section! Please check it out!

Participating in the Research

This research has been approved by the BGSU IRB (IRBNet ID# 1470494), and is not organized or funded by any scouting organization. 

There are 3 ways to participate: a group interview, an individual interview, or troop observation!

  1. Group troop interviews are a group discussion with Dr. Rainey-Smithback with troops members aged 14-17 years old.  A troop leader must also be present.  Group interviews take about 1 hour and can be conducted in-person (travel permitting) or over phone. Each participant gets a $15 Amazon Gift card. Check out Group Interview FAQ's for more information.

   2. As an Individual, Dr. Rainey-Smithback is conducting 1:1 interviews with:

  • Youth (all genders, all ages, parental consent required)

  • Adult Scouts

  • Scout Leaders

  • Scout Parents

Confidential interviews take about 1 hour and can be conducted in-person (travel permitting) or over phone. Individual receives $15 Amazon gift card. 

   3. As A Troop, Permit Dr. Rainey-Smithback to observe a troop meeting, training, or other event. Open to any U.S. troop. Can be virtual or in-person (travel permitting). No pictures, notes only, confidential. Troop receives $15 Amazon gift card.

Please contact Dr. Rainey-Smithback at for more information!

Frequently Asked Questions

Has the BSA and/or Girls Scouts USA approved this research?

This research is being conducted independently of either organization.  I have let both organizations know that I am conducting the research, but the research is not sponsored or organized by them so it is not "approved" by either organization.  Both BSA and GSUSA conduct research on their own organizations, which is valuable, but it is also extremely valuable to all involved to have outside researchers that are not pressured in any way to find a particular result.  

What about the 2-deep leadership rule from the BSA?

This rule pertains to activities organized by your troop.  If a parent and child choose to talk with me, that is outside of troop time and activities so the 2-deep leadership rule does not apply.  Please note, however, that parents are welcome to be around during the interview.  Since group interviews involve more than 2 youth together, I also require at least 1 (but welcome more) of the registered volunteers/leaders to be present. 


In addition, I have completed the Youth Protection Training from the BSA.  Since I work with youth, I also have a background check pulled on me in my other positions outside of research (e.g., in volunteer positions, as church Director of Religious Education, as substitute teacher in K-12).

Do you report anything you hear to authorities?

I am a mandatory reporter; therefore, if any person, including youth, mention to me that they are being abused or assaulted, I must report this to the local authorities.  I do explain this in the consent form that both adults and parents/children sign.  

Are you trying to undermine the BSA or GSUSA?

No. I'm not a journalist, investigator, or operative for either organization. On the contrary, I want both organizations to survive and thrive as my children have benefited great from both.  However, I understand that in the current environment my research seems suspicious.  The BSA is in bankruptcy and dealing with the sexual assault lawsuits, and the BSA and GSUSA are in court battles with each other about names and populations.  All I can do is be as transparent as possible about my intentions and work and assure everyone that I do not intend to make one or the other organization look "bad."  I can't promise that everything I write and report will be praise, but I can promise that any critiques I have will be researched, balanced, and will offer suggestions for improvement.  

Who oversees this research?

This research has been approved by Bowling Green State University's Institutional Review Board (IRB). My IRB # is 1470494-12.  To get approval, I had to submit all my questions and all my research and safety protocols to the IRB for approval.  Annually I also have to seek a "continuing review" of my research.  The job of an IRB is to ensure that research participants are treated ethically, and that all participants provide informed consent to participate in the research.

This research is also funded in part by a grant I received from the Spencer Foundation, which is a organization that funds academic research related to education.  Because BSA and GSUSA provide education outside of school settings, the Spencer Foundation found my research interesting and valuable. So, my research activities are also monitored by Spencer. The Spencer Foundation is not related to either the BSA or GSUSA.  

Are research participants anonymous or confidential?

People that participate in this research will be kept confidential.  Because participants are required to sign a consent form, the research is not "anonymous."  The IRB at BSGU could, if they so desired, review the consent forms and see that a particular person participated.  However, the information you share is confidential.  I transcribe the interviews, and while I do so I remove or change any identifying information like names, locations, troop numbers, etc.  Once the transcription is complete, I destroy the audio file. Furthermore, no participants transcript will be published in will be analyzed and reported in aggregate.

Participants doing the group interview are also warned that I cannot ensure that other participants in the interview will keep what is shared confidential (that is the nature of a group interview).  They are reminded to only share information that they are comfortable all members of the group knowing.

What is your relationship to scouting?

I was not a scout growing up.  Everyone in the area I grew up in was involved in 4-H so that is what I did.  However, my husband is an Eagle Scout, and when we met he was a Cubmaster for his sons' troop, and I helped out with camp outs and other activities.  Around the same time, my daughters brought home a flyer about Girl Scouts (they were in kindergarten at the time).  As it turned out, an adult leader was needed for their new troop, so I became a Girl Scout leader at that time.   When I first started this research (around 2019), both my husband and I decided it was best to not be active leaders in either BSA or GSUSA; however, we have let our children continue in the programs as they have desired. 

Are you trying to compare the two organizations?

Sort of.  BSA and GSUSA are very different organizations; however, they both share a common main mission.  It intrigues me that they approach this mission--to raise future leaders and citizens--in different ways.  So, my research does involve comparison, but it is not to argue that one organization is "better" than the other.  BSA and GSUSA are both valuable, important youth organization.  

What will you do with what you find out?

My "big" publication will be a book.  It will be academic, but hopefully accessible and interesting enough that it may be something you'd find in the social sciences section of a Barnes and Nobles or similar bookstore.  But, I'm also an academic, which means I will publish several articles in academic journals that are not readily accessible to the general public because typically only Universities have subscriptions to those journals.  To be honest, it's a crappy system because it keeps research findings from the general public...However, I'm happy to provide copies of anything that gets published to anyone that asks.

Because I do feel it is important to "give back" to the communities I research, I will be creating several "best practices" mini-reports that adults and youth leaders in the BSA an GSUSA can use as they see fit!  These will be posted for free on my website when the research is complete.

What the heck is "gendered citizenship" or "sexual citizenship"?

Yeah, it sounds weird.  But these are academic terms that scholars researching gender and sexuality have come up with to describe the way a person's gender or their sexual orientation impact how they are viewed as a citizen, or member of a particular community.  People researching "gendered citizenship" ask if men and women have similar rights in a particular community? Do they have the resources they need to be a full participant in a particular community?  Likewise, people researching "sexual citizenship" think about how some people's intimate relationships and partnerships may or may not be sanctioned by the state or the community, and they research how that marginalization may impact a person's outlook on civic life and the community. 

Why are you asking kids about sex or gender?

Children who participate that are aged 6 through 13 will only be asked what their gender is (boy, girl, both, neither, or however they describe it), and then the only other questions about gender they are asked are about their personal opinions about single-sex versus mixed-sex scouting groups.  Specifically, I ask BSA youth what they think about the inclusion of girls in BSA.  I ask GSUSA youth if they like that GS is girls-only.  No questions are asked about sexual orientation at all for this group.

Children who participate that are aged 14-17 are asked the same questions about gender; however, they are also asked about their opinions on the inclusion of trans scouts and leaders, and their opinions on gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth and leaders in both organizations.  Finally, they are asked what they've learned about sexual health and relationships while in scouting, which is usually where they talk about specific programs on safe relationships or health they've attended.

This type of questioning allows youth to share their opinions without going into detail on their personal experiences unless they choose to talk about that.  So, sometimes a youth will only talk in generalities about their opinions, others share personal experience, but it is always clear that they do not have to disclose anything they're uncomfortable with, and their own sexual behaviors are never discussed.

I have followed age-appropriate guidelines published by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) to determine which ages can talk meaningfully about gender (6-13) and which can talk meaningfully about sexual orientation (14-17). 

What experience do you have working with kids?

Well, I do have 6 kids of my own! Professionally, I have also worked for the last 8 years as the Director of Religious Education at Maumee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where I design and teach religious education for kids pre-K through High School.  In addition, I have worked in the elementary system as an English Language Arts gifted teacher.  I have also volunteered and lead scouting groups. 

What is your timeline?

I plan to have all the interviews complete by the end of September 2021.  Articles will be submitted, and the book drafted by the summer of 2022.  This means things will most likely be in print between Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 (the publication cycle is a bit long and clucky). But, I hope to have the "Best Practices" guides out on this website by Summer 2022.

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