***Update*** (5/27): A large number of UCF staffers, students, and local atheist leaders have signed a letter thanking the school for its commitment to helping non-religious students. Definitely worth checking out!
The University of Central Florida, one of the largest schools in the country with over 65,000 students and 10,000 faculty and staff members, has done something incredibly valuable for people who are not religious: They are making sure that students who are atheists (or part of religious minorities) have access to the same resources available to Christians.
What used to be the school’s page for Campus Faiths and Ministries is now a page dedicated to “Religion and Non-Religion.” It links to both faith-based groups (in case you’re looking for a place to worship) as well as “Humanist and Secular Services.”
Humanist and Secular support services provides resources, advocacy, and pastoral care from a Humanist perspective. Organizations serve students, faculty, and staff seeking community; meaning and purpose; assistance with life challenges; and other inner-life development, enrichment, and support. Resources include a secular student community, a Secular Safe Zone allies network, workshops and other advocacy promoting inclusion for people of all perspectives and worldviews, and connections to local, state, and national Humanist communities and services.
Those resources include contact information for the school’s voluntary Humanist Chaplain, Tee Rogers, in case students want to set up an appointment to discuss personal issues without someone telling them to trust in God to make everything better.
There are also a number of workshops available throughout the semester to educate students and staffers about how to make the campus a more inclusive place for people of all religious and non-religious backgrounds. They’ve held 27 workshops so far with 447 attendees (and counting).
That’s not all. Last year, when the university’s President John Hitt released a statement on Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, he made sure to say that the university would not discriminate on the basis of religion “(or non-religion).” That’s not something you see very often.
Rogers told me over the phone that she was thrilled by the school’s commitment to this project and that when she pitched the idea to include resources for young atheists on the website, there was no “vehement” opposition to it. Questions, sure, but no real objections to the idea.
She added, “I hope that it educates our campus community about secular and religious minority individuals, their experiences… and how we can all be more inclusive.”
There are other schools which have Humanist chaplains, but it’s rare to see one go to these lengths to make sure non-religious students are aware of their unique options when it comes to getting counseling or having access to other resources.
Let’s hope UCF’s model becomes a template for other public universities.
(Thanks to David for the link)