Secular Students Create Community on Campus
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 12:10
The Secular Student Alliance, founded last year to raise awareness of secular issues on campus, was recently offered an unexpected home: Campus Ministry.
“We’re not a religious group, we’re not the Georgetown non-theist society. That would be interesting, but we’re not that. We have religious members,” SSA discussions leader Joseph Laposata (COL ’16) said. “Secularism is a wall between the two, and that’s what we stand for. Our banner when we table says, ‘Religion is a private matter.’ It’s not against religion, nor is it a view on it, so when were offered the Campus Ministry spot, we were mostly confused.”
The group forwent Campus Ministry membership on ideological grounds as well.
“They wanted us to change our name to the humanist club or something to do with humanism. Humanism is a different term. It has a lot of overlap with secularism, but it’s more towards the morality, being a good person part about it, which is great and is definitely incorporated into our club,” SSA Vice President and co-founder Ryan Eagan (COL ’15) said. “But we have other parts of the club, which we didn’t believe would overlap well with Campus Ministry.”
Instead, the group voted unanimously to join the Student Activities Commission in January. Like many Georgetown organizations, the club centers on community, education and service — a component that connects the group to religious organizations on campus. But SSA’s distinguishing characteristic is its focus on discussion and debate between its atheist, agnostic and religious members on a range of issues related to secularism.
“We saw lots of religious groups around campus … but unlike many other large universities around the country, there was no place for secular-minded people, people who didn’t necessarily believe in God,” Eagan said.
The club sometimes encounters animosity from people unfamiliar with its focus.
“On a personal level, I’ve had people scoff and then say, ‘What do you do?’” Director of Outreach Ian Marshall (SFS ’15) said. “Because there is sort of an idea that by its name, people assume it means atheist club.”
Though discussion is its main focus, SSA has rallied behind secular causes in the past. Last April, the group lobbied Campus Ministry to change a survey on student religious life that members felt did not fully reflect the nuances of the non-religious perspective. The SSA said that the survey did not initially include substantial response options for students with no faith.
Georgetown University Student Association senators Cannon Warren (SFS ’14) and Nicolò Donà dalle Rose (SFS ’15) took up the issue with GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14), and the issue was resolved when Campus Ministry issued a second survey.
SSA members said they do not object to Georgetown’s approach to religion in any other circumstances.
“Georgetown is a perfect example. On Georgetown buildings, there are crosses in the classrooms. Where there’s public money, like in the ICC, there’s no crosses,” Marshall said. “That’s what we’re looking for, essentially. That you keep the government out of religion, and we’re doing that at Georgetown.”