Affiliate Group of the Week: University of Kansas Society of Open-Minded Atheists & Agnostics
January 19, 2016
The University of Kansas Society of Open-Minded Atheists & Agnostics (or SOMA, for short), has been a fantastic and very active group for its many years as a CFI On Campus affiliate. We talked to Taylor Cameron, president of the group, about why she got involved with SOMA and the impact she sees the organization having on campus:
First, please introduce yourself. Where you go to school, graduation year, your background. What’s your “atheist/secular conversion story,” if you have one? My name is Taylor Cameron, and I’m a third year undergrad at the University of Kansas. I’m studying Slavic Languages & Literature (with a Russian emphasis) and the history of art. I “came out” when I was a senior in high school via Facebook status. That was an awful experience, but I do not regret it at all. I had begun to reject religious ideology when I was a sophomore in high school, I think. I am so glad to be free of the harms of religion. That in itself is worth all the “family” and “friends” I lost after I came out.
How did your group get started? What year was it founded? Was there a specific event or incident that motivated you or the founders to create the organization? I am pretty sure it was founded in 2004. We don’t know much about the beginnings of the group because it kind of had a rocky start. It started out as the Society of MILITANT Atheists. I’m told they were very unreasonable and not easy to work with. I’m not exactly sure when they changed the name and the mission of the group.
What is your group’s name? How did you decide on that name? Do you have a logo to go with that name? Society of Open-Minded Atheists & Agnostics (SOMA); the group had gone by that name for years before I became president. We did ponder changing the name to something that had more emphasis on secularism and less on atheism, but our group isn’t so much a political group but more a community that welcomes non-religious members. This is our logo:
What are some events that your group holds or some activities that your group has been involved in? Which are your favorites? We hold a social coffee night at a local coffeeshop every other Tuesday. On the other Tuesdays, we have speakers come lecture about specific topics. For example, this Tuesday we are having a secular therapist speak about coping with grief without religion, and the previous talk was given by a graduate of neuroscience, who argued that religion was not a mental illness, as some atheists claim. We have a ton of fun! We haven’t held any fundraisers yet, but we are planning to soon because we want to hold our annual secular conference in April called Reasonfest.
Talk up your group. What’s something that you’ve accomplished that you’re really proud of? I’m very proud of our diversity in the group: we have several ex-Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, etc. We have equal amounts of men and women plus an age range of 18-60 years old. We are also very racially diverse. I am so proud to show students on campus that we are just normal people because the word “atheist” is still scary. It is a great feeling to have conversations with religious students to explain to them that we only want equal rights and to discuss topics in respectful and educational ways that benefit all of us. I think SOMA has achieved positive feedback from the rest of the student body.
What do you see as the mission of your organization? Our mission is to create an environment wherein secular, non-religious, skeptical, or simply curious students can voice their concerns about religious ideology and meet others who share the same beliefs.
How did you hear about CFI On Campus? How have you worked with CFI On Campus in the past, and how do you hope to work with us in the future? I attended the SSA conference in Ohio last July, where I spoke with several CFI members (including you, Stef!) We receive publications from CFI as well as awesome stickers and promotional items that we give out to students on campus.
What is your vision for the secular movement? My vision is for America to rely less on religion as a way to justify discrimination. I very much dislike how some people use Christianity as a tool to put down the non-religious/people of other religions. It is hateful, and it is not right. My vision is for religious people in America to realize that atheists/agnostics/humanists, etc. are able to have morals and to do good without the belief in an omniscient deity. It’s simple for me; I just want equal rights.
Anything else you want to add? Belonging to a non-religious community has definitely been life-changing. I have made so many friends by joining SOMA. I did not realize how oppressed I was in my small, conservative hometown until I was welcomed into such a liberal and secular place. I now call Lawrence, Kansas, home because of this. I feel like I have never been more at home in my entire life. SOMA at KU is so important because we are the only atheist/agnostic group on campus. So many more students are actually non-religious than they let on, but identifying openly as Christian is a much better way to network and become successful. We need to change that. It is imperative that non-religious students have a place to belong and feel like they won’t be negatively affected by their religious beliefs.
About the Author: Stef McGraw
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