Nontheistic Students on Campus: Understanding and Accommodating Them

The number of students who do not believe in a higher power is rising, but these students often find themselves marginalized and struggle to gain acceptance on campus. Using data from the Secular Student Alliance, this article explores the interests of nonreligious nontheistic students, identifies issues these students face on campus and offers strategies for accommodating nonreligious nontheists as part of a diverse student body.

In 2007, University of Northern Iowa student Cody Hashman identified a problem on his campus and decided to do something about it. “Cody noticed that when religious students come to college, they have all these groups to choose from,” said Cory Derringer, current president of the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers (UNIFI). “That option really wasn’t there for nonreligious students, so he wanted to fix that” (C. Derringer, personal communication, June 8, 2011).

The group started small — averaging five to 10 people at their weekly meetings for a few years — but in the last two years participation has surged, and they now see 30 to 60 attendees at their weekly Sunday brunch and hundreds at their larger events, with over 1,400 people attending their Darwin Week event series (Wilkins, 2011).

In this sense, UNIFI is not particularly unique. While one of the better-attended groups, UNIFI is just one of many nonreligious college student groups to experience significant growth in the last five years (Niose, 2011). This phenomenon — increasing participation in nonreligious student groups on American college campuses — demonstrates that nonreligious nontheistic students are part of a diverse college campus. This article intends to help college administrations successfully navigate this new territory.

Please check out this article I co-authored with Lyz Liddell of the Secular Student Alliance, which is intended to help higher ed administrators, faculty and staff better understand and advocate for secular students. You can continue reading it in part at the Huffington Post Religion, and in full at the Journal of College and Character!

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