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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    SSA unique avenue for students to explore new ideas

    In the midst of a Christian majority nation, secular communities continue to grow and organize across the nation. The UA has finally become home to one of those flourishing communities: the Secular Student Alliance (SSA).

    Founded in 2012, the SSA is the only ASUA recognized club specifically for nonreligious students on campus, namely those who identify as atheists, agnostics, humanists, skeptics and freethinkers. With 85 members at the start of the club’s second year, the SSA has attracted an untapped student demographic that needs representation. While there are more than 30 clubs on campus for Christian students, groups that serve the interests of nonreligious students have generally been absent.

    The trend towards secularism has been an increasing one. According to a Pew Research Survey from October, 20 percent of all U.S. adults aren’t affiliated with any religion, a 5 percent increase from 2007. Currently one third of U.S. adults under the age of 30 identify as religiously unaffiliated. With 13 million self-identified atheists and agnostics and 33 million unaffiliated with religion in the U.S., it’s important for secular communities to organize and gain representation that, until recently, has been nonexistent.

    Dr. Hester Oberman, a professor in the Religious Studies department said, “Diversity of opinion on campus is crucial. There should be a Secular Student Alliance in order to represent the whole spectrum from belief to disbelief, from fundamental theism to atheism on campus.”

    As a national organization, the Secular Student Alliance now has 395 affiliate groups across the nation. In addition to secular student groups, local communities have also developed organizations to provide necessary support for nonbelievers.

    FreeThought Arizona and Tucson Atheists are two local groups that provide atheists and other nontheists with resources, support, and most importantly, a sense of community.

    Donald Lacey, State Director for American Atheists and organizer of the Tucson Atheists Meetup group, says that despite the local off-campus organizations that support nontheists, a campus group is critical in providing support specific to the needs of students. Even with the increasing number of the religiously unaffiliated – or, the “nones” – Lacey says, “they are still a minority on campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Often there are unpleasant consequences of being in a minority, and having a campus club that specifically supports that minority can reduce stress associated with being an ‘outsider.’”

    Dr. Stephen Uhl, a former Catholic priest and theologian who earned his PhD in psychology upon leaving the church, currently resides as one of FreeThought Arizona’s Board of Directors. In response to the formation of the SSA at the UA, Uhl said, “In the important mind-expanding years of college, students should enjoy the freedom to explore minority or new ideas without being threatened by the conventional wisdom of the majority.” If students feel alone, he adds, they are less likely to explore these new and unconventional ideas regarding nontheism.

    This is precisely why the Secular Student Alliance exists.

    “The SSA is largely important for students to explore beliefs that they have not previously considered, find a sense of security in the case that they are changing their religious identity, and connect with others who have similar/differing values to validate and think critically about their life perspectives,” Jen DiLallo, a member of the SSA and a junior double majoring in speech, language, and hearing sciences and Spanish linguistics said. “Such a community is essential for the campus to develop a richer understanding across religious/spiritual/secular lines.”

    Rebecca Coffman, another member of the SSA and a junior studying nutritional sciences, agreed. “There was no group that celebrated its secularity as its purpose, a safe place for those seeking a religion-free environment to share thoughts and ideas. A supportive environment for this particular minority, to be able to find others of like-mind, to share challenges and receive advice for dealing with discrimination. That was missing and it was sorely needed.”

    Though the Secular Student Alliance at the UA is still new, it is already filling a void for students to explore less mainstream ideas, which is necessary for any minority group to be able to experience.

    Jessica Draper is a sophomore studying political science. Follow her on Twitter.com/@jessidraper.

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