The six universities in the U.S. that have Humanist Chaplains all have something in common (besides being pretty damn good schools): Those positions are all paid for by the respective Humanist communities. The schools themselves don’t offer any financial help.
That’s about to change now that Tufts University has ponied up the cash to sponsor the first Humanist staff position on campus — the first of its kind anywhere in the country. Walker Bristol, a former leader of the campus’ freethought group, will serve as “Humanist in Residence.” He will assist University Chaplain Greg McGonigle by offering “religious and philosophical leadership for the University… by providing primary leadership, organization, advising, and support for the Humanist community.”
Keep in mind this is a school that already lends a lot of support to non-religious students on campus:
But it’s about time this position was created, considering how long some students have been clamoring for it.
Chris Stedman spoke with McGonigle about how the position came to be:
When I arrived at Tufts last summer, our President Anthony Monaco asked me to look into the matter of chaplaincy support for Humanist students. Tufts has had a large population of Humanists, atheists, agnostics, nonreligious, and spiritual but not religious students for some time — and these students, as well as alumni, had been requesting that Tufts consider adding support for Humanists in the University Chaplaincy. At the same time, the Tufts Freethought Society — the primary Humanist community on campus — has become increasingly strong and vibrant, very engaged in interfaith work, and very interested in partnering with the University Chaplaincy on programming in recent years.
The student newspaper also lent its support:
The university administration and chaplaincy should be commended for this important step. Tufts prides itself in student-body diversity, and the induction of a Humanist in Residence is demonstrative of this commitment to greater inclusion. Tufts’ funding will now support the well-being and intellectual development of a larger population, without requiring students to identify with a particular religious group.
So it’s not quite a chaplaincy, but it’s a staff position nevertheless. One of the common problems college atheist groups face is that they may have a great leader, but once that person graduates, the group suffers. Having someone on campus who’s there for the long haul — as most established religious groups do — makes a huge difference in sustaining that community.
Best of luck to Bristol and huge congratulations to Tufts for taking this chance.