Imagine Two Atheist Groups on One Campus…

The Secular Student Alliance staff has been seeing a new development on colleges lately.

In our ten years of existence, we’ve worked hard to get a group for non-theistic students going on campuses nationwide. We have over 200 affiliates at the moment and that number is rising fast:

(It’s rising *really* fast, actually. We could always use your support.)

So what happens as these group numbers go up…?

One effect is that you start seeing TWO affiliates on ONE campus.

Why does that happen?

The original reason that we began to see two groups on one campus is that enthusiastic students would start a secular student group unaware that there was already a similar group on campus… Sometimes these groups end up merging when they find out about one another; in other cases, they continue as independent-but-cooperating groups.

Another reason we might see two groups on one campus is a difference in ideology or desired activities. A campus might have one “aggressive” atheist group focusing on activism and speaking out against the ills of religion, while another group provides a community for humanists looking to cooperate with religious groups on community service projects. Both ideologies and activity areas are legitimate, but they appeal to separate types of students.

A third reason to have more than one group on a campus is for demographic reasons. Some universities have separate groups for grad students and undergrads to meet the varying needs of these two communities.

The last reason we see two groups on one campus, and a reason that does draw some concern, is when a campus group splits because of internal conflict… Because this kind of split can be so harmful to everyone involved, we highly recommend that our affiliates seek more diplomatic solutions to these kinds of problems.

There are a number of benefits to having multiple atheist groups on campus… and a couple downsides, too. The SSA’s website elaborates on all of this.

Two groups.

Think about that for a second. I know when I was in college, I couldn’t even find one group for like-minded, non-religious people. I had to start my own. The thought of having a couple different options? That blows my mind.

This must be what it’s like to be a Christian at a college.

Except instead of two choices, they have 3984129312.

  • Toni

    Ha! Well, this is about how religious groups splintered off, isn’t it? Next thing you know, we’ll have First Atheist, Second Atheist Reformed, etc. plus the usual women’s groups, gay groups, blah blah blah…

    I suppose it’s all good as long as everyone holds the same non-beliefs. I’d just hate to see warring between the aggressive and the passive groups. I guess we’ll have to see which of those has the more profound and POSITIVE effect on the religious set.

  • JJR

    I used to work for a university in Denton, Texas and the other university across town had (and still has) a student secular group, but I went ahead and started a Meetup.com Group for the City of Denton (now an American Atheists affiliate)…yes, there was a lot of overlap between the two groups, but the Meetup group’s meeting times worked better for me as a working adult. Also, the Meetup group was more openly militant while the campus group takes a more soft-pedaling approach, at least officially. Also, the campus where I worked did not have its own student group, so that was another reason I plopped down $75 to start my own city-based Meetup group. I’ve since passed the baton, and the new Meetup group leader is also president of the campus group, so he wears two hats right now, but serves two differing constituencies. The campus group serves students while the city group serves all ages, from High School students to retired folks to everywhere in between.

    I now affiliate with the Houston Freethought Alliance groups, which has many component groups, each a little different, but with also lots of cross-over memberships stitching them together.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    I’m surprised there wasn’t a dramatic increase in 2004/2005 with the intelligent design debate making big news.

  • Richard Wade

    It’s good to see that curve accelerating.

    A campus might have one “aggressive” atheist group focusing on activism and speaking out against the ills of religion, while another group provides a community for humanists looking to cooperate with religious groups on community service projects.

    Ah the “good atheist group, bad atheist group” ploy. Very clever. ;)

    I just hope that when there are several atheist groups on a single campus, they don’t start saying that the others aren’t “real” atheists. My forehead and my desk will both be severely damaged.

  • William

    Obviously evidence of a rift in the movement!

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    A four fold increase in seven years is good progress. I can’t imagine going to a college where there are actually multiple non-theist groups. Currently, I if I’m not mistaken, there is one group on my campus. It’s a Humanist group.

  • T Ray

    herding cats

  • reparker

    205 groups, multiple at some schools, but none where I am going? I might just have to get my ass off the internet and do something about that.

  • Beth

    I’ve actually been thinking about what I’d have to do to get the UIC org going again…I’m just short on time, and I don’t know if I’m, er, enthusiastic enough to be “that girl.”

  • Dan W

    This is interesting news. I think overall this is a good thing, as clearly not all atheists/secularists agree on things. As long as the two atheistic groups on the same campus can get along with each other, it’s good to have more secular groups that can represent more types of atheists/nontheists. Like the “angry”, more activist atheists and the more “friendly”, community-service oriented atheists. Of course, there could be other distinctions between groups.

    I’d like it if there were two secular groups at my college. That way I could check both out and decide if one suits me more, or if I like both enough I could get involved in each group at the same time. I know there was one secular student group that tried to get started here, but it was very small (in members) and I ended up busy with classwork at the end of the semester, so I’m not sure if that group’s still active. I’ll have to check around for them when my fall semester starts.

  • False Prophet

    I’m not sure how it works on a typical American campus, but at my southern Ontario alma mater, the amount of funding a campus club received from the student union was directly dependent on the number of members.

    My friends noticed there were a large number of clubs tied to a particular ethnic background that had overlapping memberships and tended to hold joint events, and we speculated that this was done to have multiple sources of funding. We actually thought this was a brilliant idea and wondered if we could adopt it ourselves. Maybe that’s an option for these secularist groups.

  • Chris Jones

    “Except instead of two choices, they have 3984129312″

    That’s incredible. This just happens to be the number of churches in my suburb here in Georgia.

  • SpencerDub

    I’m proud to be playing a role in that trend!


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