Incompatible for Comparison
The American Legion Auxiliary first established the 11th Girls State program, Missouri Girls State, in 1940 (MGS Citizen Manual, 114). Since that first session, the program has moved throughout the state from its original location at William Woods College, to Christian College, to Stephens College, to the University of Central Missouri, and finally, making Missouri history, the program is being run concurrently with the Missouri Boys State program on the Lindenwood University campus. This change has sparked conversations of comparison between the two programs and also has made apparent some possible inequalities between the sessions.
While it is important to note that the programs are funded separately, there is no way to ignore the fiscal resources available to each program’s budget. The budget for Missouri Girls State’s attendance of around 500 delegates is roughly $200,000 according to director Macae Mickens. Comparatively, the budget for Missouri Boys State for this year’s session is roughly $600,000 with just over 800 in attendance. This is a clear difference in funding, but there are also some factors that must be taken into account. “ALA Missouri Girls State is a subsidiary organization of the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Missouri. The American Legion Auxiliary Department of Missouri operates as a 501(c)(19), which is a veteran-based non-profit,” said Mickens. She went on to further explain that this makes Missouri Girls State unable to operate on the same non-profit eligibility as the Missouri Boys State program. This would explain one reason why currently there is more funding going towards the boys. Under the current structure, Boys State is eligible for additional funding resources, but Mickens states that “As an operating subsidiary of the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Missouri, our finances do have to go through the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Missouri, which does limit some of our financial freedoms.” Potential changes to this structure and funding expansions would need to be voted on by the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Missouri, but it is still possible that one day the program could move towards additional forms of funding if the department ever chose to. Brad Lear, director of Missouri Boys State explained, “The American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary are two separate veterans organizations. They have separate charters, separate membership; they have sort of a similar mission, but they are independent organizations.”
In addition to financial inequalities between the two programs, many girls have been discussing standards between the programs that they believe are unfair, such as dress code and allotted recreational sports time. These social issues have even been brought into party platforms surrounding state-level elections. However, some leadership within the Girls State program has discouraged talk surrounding comparison between programs, citing that the programs are intended to be different and are therefore incompatible for comparison. Director Mickens commented on this type of interaction when I brought it up to her, stating, “I think that some counselors are maybe a little uncomfortable with the situation, and maybe that’s why that conversation happened.”
For the sake of equality, I also investigated whether Boys State delegates brought up any potential injustices between the programs from their point of view. During the State Fair on Thursday evening, I asked countless Boys State Delegates what inequalities they feel they are the victim of. A major topic mentioned was the Girls State trip to Jefferson City where the general assembly of Boys State did not get the same experience, in that they were not given the opportunity to visit the capitol. In addition, in an interview, the Boys State director cited the flag-raising ceremony as something boys often bring up. The location where the boys raise their flag is less scenic and is part of the older Heritage dormitory complex at Lindenwood. However, during the Thursday morning Girls State flag-raising, the delegates of Boys State were coincidentally outside for their session group photo. Anyone in attendance will likely remember the unifying moment between all delegates across programs as the 50 stars and 13 stripes were raised for everyone to see and honor.
While recognizing that the programs are separate, it is important to evaluate and acknowledge the differences and potential inequalities between the two. One goal that is repeatedly reaffirmed throughout the week by counselors, keynote speakers, program leaders, and the delegates themselves is women’s empowerment. The delegates have been told to critically consider the world in which they live, as well as speak out for what they believe is right. It may be a long road to fiscal equity and a solution to certain social injustices that delegates feel exist, but by starting the conversation and bringing attention to the differences between programs, Girls State and Boys State can become one step closer to equality.