Secular Student Alliance Has Seen Growth at Christian Colleges

Sophie Cote, a math and economics major who hopes to be on Wall Street one day, and Charlotta Lebedenko, a chemistry and philosophy major on her way to medical school, sat together during their medieval theology class at Fordham University, a Jesuit university in New York.

Freshmen at the time, the two banded together to defend their non-religious perspectives.

“It became pretty clear that our views were very, very different from everyone else,” Lebedenko said. “People would be upset that Sophie and I would speak up in class against theologians such as Aquinas and Anselm and say, ‘We disagree with this and here’s why.’”

Now, as sophomores, the two are roommates and starting Fordham University’s first Secular Student Alliance chapter — one of 10 new chapters that have been started recently at religiously affiliated schools.

“I knew I was an atheist before (the class), but I was very non-committal about it,” Cote said. “That class kind of drove me to try to have to defend myself, finally, and come up with reasons why I thought what I did.”

Nearly four in 10 young adults ages 18 to 29 are religiously unaffiliated — or nones — and are four times more likely as young adults a generation ago to identify this way, according to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute. Among college students surveyed by Trinity College, 32% identified their worldview as religious; 32% as spiritual; and 28% as secular.

“The younger population is becoming more nonreligious,” said Kevin Bolling, executive director of the SSA. “That’s a trend happening in our larger society, so religious campuses are going to be seeing that as well.”

Along with Fordham University’s chapter, within the past two years, SSA chapters have been started at Gonzaga University, California Lutheran University, St. John’s School, Trinity University, Southern Methodist University, Nazareth College, Bethel College, Temple University and Wesleyan University.

These new chapters join already established ones at Baylor University, Notre Dame, American University and Chapman University.

While Fordham University’s chapter is recognized by the national SSA organization, it’s not yet recognized by the school.

It’s no surprise for any campus club to have hold ups and for things to go slower than expected. “At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was taking longer because they were discussing whether or not it should be allowed,” Cote said.

Still, they’re hoping to move forward either way — just like Baylor’s chapter.

The SSA chapter at Baylor has been around for 12 years and is the longest-running SSA chapter at a religious institution, but it has never been officially recognized by the university.

That means they can’t advertise their club on campus, can’t use the school’s name or imply the school endorses them. The SSA chapter also can’t use campus resources. While other clubs can recruit members by chalking sidewalks or hanging up fliers — SSA can’t do that at Baylor.

If they do?

“We could try it but at the risk of getting expelled,” said one Baylor student.

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Source: Religion News Service