Next Sunday, I’m going to be in Baton Rouge, LA speaking at Reason on the Bayou alongside Zach Kopplin, Rob Boston, Jerry DeWitt, and a whole horde of other secular notables. If you are in the area, you should absolutely register and come out to this awesome free event, it is sure to be a rockin’ time!
This is going to be quite a full circle situation for me: back in 2009, my first brief run in with organized secularism was during my Freshman year at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Now I’m rolling into my second year working for the Secular Student Alliance, about to trek through Mississippi and Louisiana to some familiar stomping grounds from those days. The whole situation has me thinking back on the last few years with the Secular Student Alliance, the Southeastern Collegiate Atheist Alliance, Alabama Atheists and Agnostics, and that short-lived Tulane Atheists group.
Despite the unfortunate (and still somewhat mysterious to me) fate of the Tulane student group, since that time I have seen immense cause for optimism nearly everywhere I have been. Travelling the breadth of the south over this last year as an SSA Regional Campus Organizer, I have seen countless secular student communities taking form, growing, and thriving. I recall meeting the Secular Student Alliance of The University of Central Florida way back at the March 2012 Moving Secularism Forward conference in Orlando, FL, just mere months after their founding. Just a handful of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to table with the group at the UCF campus, and got to see first-hand the stalwart paragon among secular student groups that they are today.
Likewise, I recall my first of many run-ins with the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics of LSU back at the Texas Freethought Convention in 2011. Since that time, the AHA at LSU group has gone through nothing short of a renaissance, culminating in this stacked Reason on the Bayou event (done in cooperation with a number of their fellow affiliates from around the state, which is worth noting because there is a good handful of them now).
I could ramble on countless more examples like UCF and LSU from across the south, which dramatically outnumber the negative cases (like the fate of the Tulane Atheists) that I have seen. The strength and number of secular student groups is growing, even down here, and I’ve been able to feel it in the pulse on the ground. I wish I could show people what I see in all of those coffee shops, libraries, and student centers around the south: the settling foundation blocks of thriving communities-to-be, the passionate individuals with driving visions for secular groups at their campuses, and the bustling events of organized groups of secular students meeting en masse.
These past few years since the sputtered attempt of the Tulane Atheists has been a whirlwind for me, with my progress and position in secularism escalating at a rapid pace. What has particularly stood out to me, as I head back down to the bayou today, is that the rise of the secular students over these past few years makes my personal progress since 2009 seem miniscule. I see all of this growth in the numbers (and in person) as an excellent sign of progress, and gives me serious cause for optimism in the future.
I remember what it was like trying to find a community, what it was like to see one fail, and what it was like to finally find a place in one. The more of these student groups that exist and thrive, the better for us all. It’ll mean more Reason on the Bayous, more community centers for secular service and advocacy around the country, and more Zach Kopplins if we are lucky (how is cloning technology these days?).
I haven’t set in stone exactly what I’ll say on the stage at Reason on the Bayou, but that’s probably a pretty decent preview!