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After years of informal organizing, campus Eagle Scouts nurture new flock

Boy and Girl Scouts of all ages are applying their childhood lessons to help up-and-coming scouts in the community.
Photo: Courtesy of Scouts at U of C
The newly registered RSO Scouts at U of C aims to help students, staff, and faculty find outlets to support the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. Here Chicago Area Council Boy Scouts attend the second annual Medicine Merit Badge Clinic at the BSLC.

—Editor’s Note: Jon Catlin is a Maroon staffer.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, a small group accumulated in the lobby couches of the Biological Sciences Laboratory Center. The members’ backgrounds varied widely—one was a practicing doctor, one a junior at the U of C Lab School, another a law student. However, they were united by a singular identity: “We are all Eagle Scouts.”

Second-year Jon Catlin, current chairperson of the year-old RSO, Scouts at U of C, emphasizes the present tense of the mantra. After reaching Eagle Scout status, the highest rank, Catlin said, the scouts acquire a “lifelong commitment to give back to the troops.”

The group, which is a community service RSO open to anyone, aims to fulfill this commitment by offering the vast resources and facilities of the University to younger Scouts in the Chicago area.

Originally formed a few years ago by an Eagle Scout and then-medical student Andrew Phillips and faculty adviser Darrel Waggoner, the first few years of the unofficial group consisted only of medical students. They put together a clinic for Boy Scouts in the area to complete a medicine-themed merit badge, one of many awards given to Boy Scouts for exploring disciplines and skill sets through a list of set requirements.

“Fulfilling the requirements for a merit badge independently can be time-consuming and, frankly, expensive,” Catlin said.  “If I were a Boy Scout now, I would have loved to be immersed with the fantastic facilities and resources the University of Chicago has to offer.”

It was only last year, when Catlin and second-year Adil Tobaa, discovered the unregistered club “through a Google search” as prospective students and began coming to meetings that the group evolved from the confines of the Medical School.

The organization now continues to grow. U of C Charter School, Donoghue campus P.E. teacher Derrick Brill and Director of Family and Community Engagement Todd Barnett approached the Scouts at U of C. They asked for assistance in their formation of a new Cub Scout troop for boys in first through fifth grade. “We don’t know how they found us,” Catlin said, “but we’re eager to help.”

  • Daniel Boone

    As a UChicago alum and a former boy scout, I was disappointed to hear about this group endorsing the Boy Scouts of America at UChicago.

    Because of its aggressive anti-gay stance, the Boy Scouts of America is not the sort of organization I would want my own children to belong to.

    Like the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts have the same contradictory and hypocritical history of being both anti-gay and willing to overlook serious issues of pedophilia in their own organizations:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-boy-scouts-files-20120916,0,6937684.story

    I hope the UChicago chapter makes an effort to challenge the groups homophobic behavior. It seems pretty clear the Boy Scouts “No Gays Allowed” policy violate the UChicago’s own longstanding non-discrimination clause.

    We don’t live in a world any more in which people are willing to just look the other way and hope uncomfortable realities will just go away.

  • P.S.
  • Francis J. Podbielski, MD

    As a U. of C. alumnus, Eagle Scout, and current Scouter, the Boy Scouts of America do not pursue an “aggressive” anti-gay policy. They do however pursue a policy that human sexuality does not have a place in the program and will not tolerate individuals who have a particular political agenda to advance. If you do like like the values upon which the organization is rooted, feel free not to belong, but do not impede those who are interested in what Scouting has to offer.

  • ZC

    The Boy Scouts are very happy to advance their own anti-gay political agenda in their organization. And very happy to overlook pedophilia. Parents who want to subject their children to that kind of nonsense in this day and are out of touch.

    You might want to read the University of Chicago’s non-discrimination policy.

    This organization is in violation of University policy and should not be recognized by the University.

  • Andrew Phillips

    Congratulations to the students and faculty who are carrying forward a club whose roots are in service, and thanks to the Maroon for highlighting this opportunity for others to join in service efforts. I’m so thankful to see the club prosper.

    With all due respect to the negative commentators on the Boy Scouts of America policies, this article has nothing to do with the Boy Scouts of America and is not the proper place to voice on opinion on the Boy Scouts of America policies, much less ill-informed rants that do not reflect the charter statement of the Scouts RSO which actually encourages and includes any and everyone of every background without discrimination based on sex, color, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, or any other conceivable attribute. Nor does the Scouts RSO purport any endorsement or affiliation with any Scouting organization.

    Rather, I think heartfelt gratitude is in order for the Scouts RSO’s community service, providing a rare glimpse of various professions to South Side youth, completely free. Congratulations to the group for growing the spirit of service to the community! You are changing lives.

  • Willard Shaep

    I am a former Eagle Scout and I would have to agree with the comments of Dr. Podbielski. The Boy Scouts teaches skills and moral principles ( A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty , clean, brave, and reverent).

    I do not ever remember the teaching of human sexuality as a founding core belief or subject that was taught. I agree that it really has no role in Scouts but unfortunately is a matter of political agenda for parties on both side of the issue in our society.

    Some find the word reverent in the Scout Law and “Duty to God and Country ” in the Scout Oath” uncomfortable but their is no particular religious teachings taught or practiced. However, for those who find these statements uncomfortable I understand why they might not choose to belong. However not allowing the Boy Scouts to operate would be a discriminatory policy in itself.

    The Boy Scouts has a policy of non discrimination.

    The issue of pedophilia has touched almost every governmental and social organization as awareness has increased. The Boy Scouts are no exception and have now implemented extensive training in this area for the leaders and scouts themselves.

    The Boy Scouts are an important service organization that is still relevant to todays youth. They teach life guiding skills and principles to our youth that will serve them throughout life while providing service to the community and country.

  • Philip

    I have rather complicated take on this issue: I am a former scout, a current Chicago student, and my admissions essay was about my feelings of ethical ambivalence toward the Boy Scouts.

    I am glad to hear that this group exists. I think they can provide great experiences and educational opportunities that have an opportunity to be really inspiring to the children in these communities. It is particularly important I think that the often underserved population that is served by the U of C charter schools is getting access to the kind of personal enrichment opportunities, like hands-on experience with medical facilities, that are more readily available to troops where many of the parents have access to these kinds of things without outside involvement.

    I will also concede to Dr. Podbielski and Mr. Shaep that, as a Scout, I never was taught anything about sexuality in a boy scout function. The first time I ever heard of the Scouts rejection of gays was when a new neighbor explained to me one year that she couldn’t buy my popcorn because her brother was gay and she didn’t support organizations that discriminated. I think I would even agree “that human sexuality does not have a place in the program,” and I’m certainly glad that while the Scouts strongly encourages civic engagement, they do “not tolerate individuals who have a particular political agenda to advance.”

    The issue here, though, is that the Boy Scouts (not the Girl Scouts, who should be left out of this) *don’t* just uniformly apply a policy of political non-partisanship in the treatment of homosexuality and religion, in the same way that they might, say, affirm conservationism as an important value but not take a stand on whether a cap-and-trade program or a particular tax credit is a good idea.

    The Boy Scouts actively exclude gay boys and homosexual men and women from becoming involved as Scouts or adult volunteers; in the younger programs especially, this effectively means that the straight children of homosexual parents are also excluded.

    On the religious question, the Boy Scouts require all youth and adult members subscribe to a Declaration of Religious Principle that states, “The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training.” This statement does not merely exclude atheists, it makes a specific religious claim that those who do not recognize God (admittedly broadly defined “as the ruling and leading power in the universe” so as to include Buddhists) are somehow inferior. This is a claim that is not acceptable even to many people who do believe in a God, prominently including Unitarian Universalists.

    I should in fairness also note that there are some very courageous troops and councils within the BSA that oppose these policies, as well as some members of the BSA board, and I have hope that change is not far off. However, for myself, I have ethical reservations about being involved in Scouting. I’m not opposed to an organization that remains neutral on homosexuality and, while affirming the value of spiritual practice, neutral on religious beliefs. But sadly, the BSA at a national level has decided to exclude homosexuals and to endorse specific religious claims.

  • Peter Zelchenko

    Philip, I think your experience must be different from mine. Although I personally am aware of two cases in which gay men were treated differently in Scouting, one of these cases was almost 40 years ago, and the other was not done officially. I am an active parent in Scouting now, and I have never been forced to sign, nor have I ever seen, any “Declaration of Religious Principle,” nor has my son ever been asked to even consider such a thing.

    Perhaps the region where you were a Scout is more active in drumming out progressive viewpoints, but at least Chicago’s lakefront has not been guilty of this. Perhaps you should speak to the people running the RSO and see what they have to say about it. I also think the University’s new policies answer some of the questions you have.