Supporting the Inclusion of Atheists on Campus February 7, 2009

Supporting the Inclusion of Atheists on Campus

Doctoral student Kathleen Goodman and Professor John Mueller teamed up to write a fantastic article on why colleges should embrace and acknowledge atheists on campuses nationwide. They mention this website a couple times as well. (Woo!)

I don’t know whether that version from The Chronicle of Higher Education is the same as the one that will appear in a future issue of New Directions for Student Services, but it provides a great snapshot of campus atheism:

People who follow trends in higher education are aware of a renewed emphasis on religious plurality and spirituality on college campuses. But all the articles, conferences, and campus activities surrounding religion and spirituality rarely, if at all, acknowledge one group: students who are atheists. If colleges are to be truly inclusive, they should embrace atheist perspectives as well.

In interviews with several college atheists, Mueller found that their views are nothing like the stereotypes against the non-religious would have us believe — you already knew these things were true but it’s nice to see them acknowledged.

… the research shows that many students who identify as atheist — or related designations, such as humanist or free thinker — are, in fact, quite thoughtful about their purpose, morals, and values. They suggest that being good for the sake of goodness is equivalent to, or perhaps better than, being good to follow Scripture or to get into heaven, because it comes from a more personal and authentic place. They state that their life purpose is to use their skills and talents in service to the environment, humanity, and all living creatures. Their purpose and morality are less about personal salvation after death and more about celebrating and contributing to the human condition.

Finally, the authors share a few thoughts on what school administrators and faculty members can do to create a positive atmosphere for atheist students:

  • Create a welcoming environment for atheist students.
  • Include atheism in student programming.
  • Ensure that atheists can, like other students, explore their inner development.
  • Create safe spaces that are “atheist only” for students.
  • Look to other institutions for best practices.

They go into more depth in the article.

It’s fantastic to see this discussion happening outside the typical atheist circles.

The Secular Student Alliance (a group I’ve been working with for years) has seen firsthand the positive impact a powerful campus group can have in an atheist’s development.

When I attend conferences and get to meet other student atheists in person, I hear stories all the time about what they’ve had to deal with back home — being ostracized from their friends and family, seeing flyers for their events torn down or ruined, getting hassled from the school when they apply to become a registered student organization.

Those things don’t just happen in the Bible Belt.

We can’t just leave it up to faculty/administration members to make the changes, though. Instead, we need to provide students with the opportunity to start their own groups and meet other like-minded people. That’s why I think it’s so important to support the SSA.

Imagine the difference if there were active atheist groups on nearly every campus in the country. What if atheists groups were as prevalent as Campus Crusade for Christ?

Wouldn’t you love to see that?

(Thanks to Rachel for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Miko

    Create safe spaces that are “atheist only” for students.

    That one surprised me a bit. I don’t have anything against it per se, but it’s not something I’d expect most atheists would want. Were not really such an exclusionary bunch, are we?

  • Chal

    Yeah, that part seemed strange to me too…

    Pretty much any place without religion actively going on is good enough for me.

  • I agree with Chal and Miko. That part did seem very strange to me.

  • llewelly

    From the article:

    Include atheism in student programming.

    Goodman and Mueller admit that Evil Secular Universities are programming Our Children to be Atheists!!!

  • Creating safe spaces for atheists is very much the same as creating LGBT safe spaces. On campuses with strong religious influences, many atheists might struggle to express themselves because of the fear of backlash. Creating a safe space is a way to show to make sure that atheists have an opportunity connect and express themselves.

  • Epistaxis
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