Coming into college, I wasn’t religious, but I never said the word “atheist” when describing myself. If someone asked me about my belief system, I would talk around the subject saying how it’s really impossible to know anything for sure. If it was someone I trusted, I would call myself an agnostic because that seemed to be a more accepted label. So there I was, little Michaelyn, getting ready to step into a new world. College. On the first week there was an info fair where all the student groups set up tables and try to wrangle up as many new members as they can. One group stuck out to me in particular. They had a white banner with bold, black lettering: Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics (later referred to as SOMA).
Well here was something I didn’t expect. I cautiously walked up to the table, sure that the whole world was glaring at me for even approaching such a group. That’s where I met Conrad who was currently vice president of the group. He was super friendly and when I said I thought I fit in with the group he encouraged me to attend the first meeting and see what it was all about. So I did.
At that first SOMA meeting, we broke down into small groups to get to know each other. We did short introductions and gave our de-conversion stories. As others spoke about coming from religious backgrounds and started describing how and why they doubted religion and god, I started to realize that I really wasn’t alone. In high school I knew of maybe three atheists who were open about their lack of belief, but I was never brave enough to express mine. And now, here was a group of 40-50 people who had the same thoughts I did. When it came time for me to introduce myself, I talked about my high school and how Brothers and Sisters In Christ was one of the biggest clubs there, so it was intimidating to say the least to be open about not believing. That evening, at my first SOMA meeting, I told a group of strangers that I was an atheist. It was a huge step for me. No one made fun of me or scolded me. I was accepted by everyone who heard.
Now, almost two years later, I’m president of SOMA. Most of my friends are people that I have met through SOMA meetings or parties. I also have a great number of friends which I have met at various secular/skeptic conferences. SOMA gave me a voice. It helped me realize that I was not alone, and that in turn encouraged me to be open and let others know that they aren’t alone either.
It’s still scary sometimes, to tell someone I’ve just met about SOMA and about my own beliefs. Atheists are still hated by many. But that’s why I keep fighting. We’ve got to show the world that atheists are just people. I never would have made it this far, never would have found my voice, never would have found so many friends without SOMA.
This is why we need student groups. We need community and we need to be able to support each other. The SSA makes these groups possible. They help them get started and stay together. I owe so much to the Secular Student Alliance.
This is post 7 of 49 for Blogathon.
Total donors is at 220 (if we hit 300, campers get to pie us in the face)! That link also has some other ideas for pledging for Blogathon.
You can still donate to the SSA by supporting other blogathoners, art contributors, personal fundraising pages or through a direct donation to the SSA! SSA Week lasts through June 17th. Spread the word!