Affiliate Group of the Week

Affiliate Group of the Week #26: Secular Student Alliance at UCSC

November 21, 2013

We are pleased to announce this week’s Affiliate Group of the Week, the Secular Student Alliance at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This group has hosted past Point of Inquiry host, Indre Viskontas, CFI board chair, Eddie Tabash, and will soon host Julia Galef. The current president, Rob Carmen, answered a few questions for us. 

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 Rob Carman, and I’m a mathematics graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz and current president of the Secular Student Alliance at UCSC. Originally I am from Peoria, Illinois. My (de)conversion story is not an uncommon one. All the way through high school in Illinois, I attended Catholic schools. Once I started college, I met many people of different backgrounds and religions. I soon realized that - contrary to my beliefs at the time - religiosity had seemingly no bearing on people’s degrees of morality. This forced me to question the things I had been taught throughout my life regarding religion and the way the world works. For a while I tried to reconcile my previous beliefs, hoping to salvage them in some way. But I eventually ended up tearing through the popular atheist literature such as “The God Delusion,” “God Is Not Great,” and “The End of Faith” by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, respectively. After quite a bit more introspective thought, I realized my old beliefs could not be reconciled. I had become an atheist. This idea of questioning everything has persisted in my life, and I would now most accurately identify myself as a skeptic.

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?
As far as I know, the SSA@UCSC has been around about 6 or 7 years, some time before I came to the school. The original founder had graduated before I became a member of the club.

How many members does your group have? What kinds of events do you hold? 
We hold weekly discussion meetings which average about ten people per meeting. Besides weekly meetings we have other various events including hosting speakers from the atheist/skeptic movement(s), an annual debate with a local Christian pastor, ask an atheist day, sell your soul for a cookie day on Halloween, and several social events where we just hang out together as a group.


As an example, could you share one thing you’re most proud of that your group accomplished in the past year?
I’m always most excited when we’re able to host a great speaker from within the atheist and skeptic communities for a public lecture. This always takes a big effort to coordinate and organize, but it has always been worth it meeting and working with the leaders of our movements. In the past year or so, some people that we have hosted include Indre Viskontas, Eddie Tabash, JT Eberhard, and this week we have Julia Galef coming to give a talk.


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 have been aware of the Center for Inquiry for some time because of its podcast Point of Inquiry. I first contacted CFI On Campus about a year ago to ask for some help with bringing in a speaker to talk to our group. CFI On Campus has been great in helping us with organizing speaking events, some of which may not have been able to happen without the support of CFI On Campus. We hope this partnership continues as we try to promote the values of the Center for Inquiry through our public events and debates we hold.

What is your vision for the secular movement?
My vision is foremost that the secular movement will continue to grow while always promoting the ideas of skeptical inquiry and rational thought. I hope we can continue to be a welcoming place for people that feel ostracized and estranged by religion as well as an ally to minority groups that are often mistreated by the religious.



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.




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