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Secular Student Support–Advice?

A month or so ago, I had a student come out to me, as a budding atheist. I am not going to share any of his writing—it was an honor to have been trusted, and I will not violate that trust—but I do want to talk about it in the abstract for a bit.

I feel like it took very little effort for me to shed the religious shackles, and I never did have a lot of social pressure bearing on me, but upon reflection it did take several years, and I was at a place far removed from my old church, from my parents, and from the bible belt. There was very little pressure, one way or the other; conversely, there was very little support, one way or the other.

My student is in more or less the same community he has lived in his entire life, and now he feels he no longer believes; this is a far more difficult position than I was in. The people he would ordinarily talk to about such things are precisely the people he would not want to talk to. He has spent his entire life thus far with one variety of people, and has no one to lean on; he feels lost, like he’s the first or even the only one of his kind. He doesn’t believe in the things that used to bind him to his community, but feels some serious guilt about rejecting the worldview of his family and friends.

Cuttlefish University does not have a secular support group, or freethinkers group, or atheist group or agnostic group or any such animal. It does have (at least) six Christian groups, two Jewish groups and an interfaith group (official student organizations). I had not, until quite recently, really seen the need for a secular group (I frankly had not seen the need for the religious groups, either, since they could meet at their houses of worship), but now of course I have changed my mind. I may have to take a hand (well, a tentacle) in helping to organize one.

Those of you who have done so, or are members of student or other secular groups—any advice? What has worked? What has not? What sort of charter does such an organization have? And what questions am I not asking, that I probably should?

Comments

  1. TX_secular says

    I would contact the Secular Student Alliance as they have a well developed system in place for starting campus groups. We have a fairly new group on my campus and SSA has been very helpful to the student leadership in marketing the new group to students on campus. Thanks to their help, our campus group continues to grow.

  2. Draken says

    I have a nagging memory that this has been asked on Pharyngula some time ago, but can’t really find it… have you asked there?

  3. Nice Ogress says

    And for that matter, you might speak to the Interfaith group as well (perhaps on behalf of an anonymous friend, as necessary) and sound them out. Even though they are not secular in and of themselves, they might be a strong ally against the inevitable backlash of intolerance if approached delicately.

    That is, after all, one of the things Interfaith is for.

  4. brianengler says

  5. says

    As the leader of a Secular Student Alliance affiliate, I can say that they are an absolutely awesome organization that does an incredible amount to help out budding student groups. They provide resources ranging from a speakers’ bureau to activity packets for various kinds of events for groups to hold.

    What has worked best for us is to simply create a safe space where people can come together and hang out, knowing that while their views may be challenged, they will never be ostracized for them (unless they fall into racist/sexist/ableist/classist realms, which are grounds for ejection). We have discussion meetings within the group and with other campus groups, progressive, religious, you name it, as well as holding parties and potlucks.

    I think the social atmosphere really is the most important to focus on, at least at first. With a platform like that, moving into more intense activism becomes much easier.

  6. says

    Hi there! Yes, Dren Asselmeier here. I do work for CFI On Campus! :D We have over 240 affiliated student groups all over the world and I would *love* to help anyone with questions they might have about starting a student group on any kind of campus. Many of our affiliates are also affiliated with the Secular Student Alliance or other non-religious/freethinking orgs, so there are definitely resources and advice to spread around. You can email us at [email protected]. Have a good day!

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