Why Students are a Priceless Investment
January 3, 2012
Students, young people, and the “30 under 30” that some people reference (the idea that 30% of people under 30 are not religious, which I can’t confirm the accuracy of right now, but is still relevant in this context) are part of a growing trend to include students in activism and secular organizations. Some organizations, like American Atheists, have done innovative things to get students involved. Offering free or reduced rates for organization membership, giving free or very inexpensive entry to conferences, and offering grants and scholarships to students for their hard work and dedication to our missions are all simple measures that attract students and make them feel important to our movement.
I want to say a few things to inspire students to get involved with community groups and to stay involved with the movement even after they finish being students, and I want to send a message to all secular and skeptical organizations to say that engaging young people is the only way to stay relevant. Student leaders are a large part of my audience and I hope that this information will also convey why it is crucial that they develop plans to make sure their student group is a strong and fulfilling presence on their campus for years after they graduate.
Four years ago, I had nothing to do with Center for Inquiry. I had only heard about them through Penn and Teller: Bullshit!, and I didn’t know that there was one in Michigan. I didn’t volunteer anywhere and I didn’t think much about the fact that I was an atheist.
Today, I am outreach coordinator for Center for Inquiry On Campus. I spend over 40 hours per week pouring over my work and doing everything in my power to spread our mission. I go to conferences, speak to groups of students, help organize events and campaigns, and even do my best to be an upstanding example of atheism, humanism, and skepticism in my free time. This is a real commitment and makes an impact, as did the three years that I spent volunteering at CFI Michigan, running my CFI campus group, and beginning my position at our Transnational office.
Many of you know Debbie Goddard, our head Campus Coordinator. She first became involved in secularism via student involvement. She was a student leader and volunteer who attended some of the earliest Campus Freethought Alliance events, and now she is the leader of our campus program, reaching literally thousands of students every year through. In addition to student outreach, she is the director of African Americans for Humanism. For years she has worked hard to promote science, reason, and secular values. All of it began when she was a student.
Ed Beck is our Education Programs Administrator and also reaches thousands of people by coordinating our extensive education program, including university courses and CFI Institute events. He started at CFI as an intern and student member. Jon Childress is our Web Developer who, like yours truly, moved a great distance to New York in order to work for CFI. He has been working to develop the web structure (our face and the way that most people find out about us) of CFI, Council for Secular Humanism, and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He started as a student, interested in skepticism, going to branch events in Florida. Adam Isaak, the producer of Point of Inquiry and our Media Specialist, also spends his time working to produce the best videos and recordings of people who drive our movement and reach thousands of minds every day.
The list isn’t limited to people in my office, either. The leaders of the Secular Student Alliance were involved in student freethought events years and years ago, and now they run the SSA! I bet that almost every organization in our movement today has someone working there who first became involved as a student. Plus, tons of the most reputable speakers were students who first developed a passion for freethought while in college or high school. Several former CFI interns have gone on to write books, speak at huge events, and get jobs being the leaders of the international secular, skeptical, and scientific organizations that are changing the world.
So, by taking some time to consider how to get students to events, and by being student groups that work toward maintaining a presence on campus year after year, you and I are investing in the movements that we support now and that we will continue to support as we get older. The people that we take time to train, to listen to, and to embolden today will be the people that take the reigns with new and fresh ideas, and eventually continue our work after we are no longer able. Having a plan so that your student group continues to reach students after you’re gone, being an organization that cares about engaging students, and being an individual who supports student outreach are all ways that we look beyond ourselves, beyond today and tomorrow, and do something that will continue to change the world for decades.
If you want to get involved, or to make a donation to help Center for Inquiry reach out to students all over the world, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Dren Asselmeier
Dren Asselmeier does student outreach as a campus organizer at the Center for Inquiry. She got her start as an organizer while interning at Center for Inquiry–Michigan in 2008. She stayed until 2010 as a volunteer campus coordinator, and was CFI–Michigan Freethinker of the Year in 2009, as well as president of Center for Inquiry–Grand Valley State University. Dren has a B.A. in English from Grand Valley State University. She is the president of Buffalo Area Non-Profit Professionals, an event volunteer at Buffalo Subversive Theatre, and a contributor to the Buffalo Storyteller Hour.
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