Affiliate Group of the Week

Affiliate Group of the Week #23: Secular Student Alliance at the College of Charleston

September 5, 2013

Max Nielson, contortionist extraordinaire, and president of the Secular Student Alliance at the College of Charleston shares with us what the CFI On Campus affiliate at his school has been up to. 

First, please introduce yourself. Where you go to school, graduation year, your background. What’s your “atheist/secular conversion story,” if you have one?
I’m Max Nielson, a sophomore at the College of Charleston pursuing a degree in political science (and some other undecided major). I was born into a primarily secular household with an atheist mother and pagan/humanist father. I grew up in-part in the Unitarian Universalist Church in my hometown, Columbia, South Carolina, where I developed my own understanding of humanism alongside a sense of tolerance for religious belief.

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?
Our group started last year, (Fall 2012) to provide a place at the College for secular activism, service, and fundraising, with a strong focus on connectivity with the national and global secular movements. These goals complement an existing atheist discussion group on campus.


How many members does your group have? What kinds of events do you hold? 
We have approximately 15 regular members who attend our range of events from service initiatives, like our participation in Project Greenheart - a community outreach program that teaches inner-city elementary school students about sustainable agriculture alongside biology, or our casual social events, like a recent beach trip to neighboring Sullivan’s Island.

As an example, could you share one thing you’re most proud of that your group accomplished in the past year?
My favorite accomplishment of the past year is that we managed to get started from scratch, then send 2 officers to both major national student conferences over the summer, CFIcon and SSAcon, augmenting their group-running power.

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 was invited to the 2012 CFI Leadership Conference in the wake of my activism surrounding my high school’s religious graduation ceremony. During that weekend (my first conference) I was profoundly inspired by speakers like Debbie Goddard, James Croft, and Desiree Schell and stuffed with ambitious plans for a student group at the College of Charleston. I plan to continue using the CFI student leadership conference as a crucible for refining future leaders of SSA@CofC.

What is your vision for the secular movement?
Ultimately, I would love to see permanent community fixtures evolve from the secular movement, perhaps much like the churches of religious tradition. Places of intense community development would grant extraordinarily greater political purchasing power to the secular worldview.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
We hope to build a strong community that will stand as an example for groups across the region and nation - we aim to stand among the prestigious groups before us that have inspired so many of our programs and efforts.



About the Author: Cody Hashman

Cody Hashman's photo
Cody Hashman is a Campus and Community Organizer at the Center for Inquiry. He graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, with a degree in Psychology, where he was the co-founder and president of the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers.




Guests may not post URLs. Registration is free and easy.

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

The Council for Secular Humanism's magazine (available at is called...

Creative Commons License

The Course of Reason is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

CFI blog entries can be copied or distributed freely, provided:

  • Credit is given to the Center for Inquiry and the individual blogger
  • Either the entire entry is reproduced or an excerpt that is considered fair use
  • The copying/distribution is for noncommercial purposes