Baylor University is one of the religiously-affiliated schools that has recently denied atheists from forming an officially-recognized group. When you read Rob Bradfield‘s article in The Baylor Lariat, it’s not hard to understand why such a group is necessary on campus and how hard the atheists who go there have it:
Only 43 out of 14,900 students identified themselves as atheists, according to a fall 2010 report prepared by the Office of Institutional Research and Testing.
A further 371 students identified as having “No Religion” and 18 did not wish to identify. Baptists had the strongest showing at 5,287, followed by Catholics at 2,128.
For some atheists, it is the religious student culture, not the institution, that is the greatest challenge. At a school with so many students of faith, it’s almost impossible to avoid religious conversations and — especially for non-religious students — questions.
“I do feel like sometimes it’s harder for me to make friends, especially with people who ask that sort of question outright, initially, and don’t have the opportunity to get to know me better,” said one atheist student, a senior computer science major from Austin who asked to remain anonymous.
While he says he has enjoyed his time at Baylor and has a group of friends that includes several religious people, he also acknowledges one aspect of Baylor social life in which he can’t participate: “I can’t join people’s churches.”
There are plenty of reasons atheists may end up attending religious schools, and the school is under no obligation to give atheists resources available to other religious clubs on campus. But if you want your students to explore questions of faith, if you want to support them when they voice dissent and challenge orthodoxy, if you want students to feel a sense of belonging, it’s counterproductive for the school to tell atheists they can’t form a group. I’d bet we ask those questions and challenge sacred cows better than any other religious group on any campus in the country. And an atheist group on a religious campus is a true minority.
It looks like the Baylor students have found an unofficial workaround, anyway:
Round Rock senior Erik Remkus has found another solution.
Remkus is the vice president of the Agnostic/Atheist Society, an unofficial student organization that gives atheists and agnostics a place to come together and socialize.
The organization meets from 9-11 p.m. every Monday and from 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursdays at Common Grounds. The group is open to any student that wants to participate, including students of faith.
Members come together to discuss a wide range of topics and support each other.
“It’s mostly nice to talk with some like-minded people,” Remkus said.
One of the challenges the group faces is finding possible members.
“There’s only so much that we can do because we can’t do the advertising — that’s the big thing,” Remkus said, “and in a very Christian-heavy environment, it is kind of odd to be like, ‘Hello, are you an atheist?’ You just can’t do that.”
It may be uncomfortable for them to ask, but it’s easy for the rest of us to spread the word for them. If you know any atheists at Baylor, let them know about this group.