Announcing Our 2013 Outreach Interns, Monica Harmsen & Harrison Hopkins

April 26, 2013

We would first like to thank all of the 2013 internship applicants. If our applicant pool is any indication of the strength of the student freethought movement, we see a bright future ahead! That said, we are more than happy to welcome Monica Harmsen from University of Michigan and Harrison Hopkins from Presbyterian College. We look forward to working with them!

I’m Monica Harmsen and I am a rising senior at the University of Michigan. I am majoring in Russian language and literature. For the past two years, I have been on the executive board of the Michigan Secular Student Alliance and served for one year as president.

The YouTube atheist community was my gateway into secular activism. I vlogged and blogged for several years under the handle LittleKropotkin before coming out to my family as a nonbeliever. While my younger brother is also an atheist, I quickly realized how lonely it is to be an atheist in a theists’ world. It was my desire for community that eventually drew me to the Secular Student Alliance group at the University of Michigan. When I first joined the club, our SSA consisted of 10 students who met every week to discuss philosophy. Together with a handful of highly motivated secularists, I helped the group grow into a vibrant community whose membership became so large that we could barely squeeze into our meeting room each week.

At the Michigan Secular Student Alliance, we focus on three core missions: activism, service, and community. We organize several large speaker events every semester and have had the privilege of welcoming such personalities as Richard Dawkins, Ed Brayton, Eddie Tabash and Dan Barker to our campus. In the past two years, we have organized three debates, each of which drew audiences of several hundred students and community members. We are currently the only Volunteers Beyond Belief team in Michigan and our group participates in at least one community service project a month. These projects have ranged from some as large as cleaning up neighborhoods in Detroit and raising money for Light the Night, to activities as local as volunteering at a small rabbit rescue shelter.

The Michigan Secular Student Alliance is the only group of its kind on our campus and as such, our most important cause is the creation of a cohesive community for nonbelieving students. When I attended the Reason Rally, Women in Secularism and the CFI Student Leadership Conference, I experienced the strength and passion of the secular community. The strength in the community became one of my biggest inspirations for continuing activism in the movement. I sincerely believe that secular activists collectively have the power to do great good in the world. I am thankful for the opportunities that I have had through my campus group and through organizations like CFI to do good alongside them. My goal is to continue to do so for as long as I can.

When I am not involved in SSA, I enjoy blogging, music, Russian literature, being a bit of a linguistics nerd, and photography.

I’m Harrison Hopkins, a rising junior at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC, where I’m majoring in Psychology with a minor in History. Before I had even arrived at the school two years ago, I had one goal in mind: to establish a student group for the nonreligious students on my campus.

Something that I’m asked a lot (and there’s no doubt that someone reading this is thinking the exact same thing) is “Why would an atheist go to a Christian college?” It’s a fair question with a pretty simple answer: PC offered a ton of financial aid that made it even cheaper to attend than a comparable public school. The fact that it was ranked as the #1 Liberal Arts College in 2007’s Washington Monthly doesn’t hurt either.

When I applied to the school, however, I wasn’t even aware of the secular movement. It was a month after my application that I became involved in it at all, when, with the help of the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the South Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, I challenged prayer at my high school graduation ceremony. The prayer policy was ended (though still occurred, thanks to the wonderful SC Student-Led Messages Act), but the damage had been done: I wanted to continue as a student activist.

Less than two months after my arrival at PC, the Secular Student Alliance at Presbyterian College was an official RSO, with letters of recommendation coming from our faculty advisor, the head of the Religion department, and the Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life. Since then, we’ve had a small but dedicated membership of atheists and religious members alike with the common goal of giving nonreligious students a community on campus while working to dispel common misconceptions about them that are ever so prevalent here in the South.

This past year, we made big steps toward our goal. Throughout the fall semester, we raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through Foundation Beyond Belief’s challenge to all secular groups. By the end of the semester, we were the top student group in average dollars raised, and third overall as well! This was a huge accomplishment for a small student group such as ours and garnered much attention on campus. We also worked to have a weeklong condom drive in our campus center, a task which required me talking to the college president himself to get approval. Finally, in March we brought Greta Christina to campus to speak on Atheism and Sexuality, which was, as far as I’m aware, the first time ever a well-known atheist speaker came to speak on our campus.

I look forward to working with CFI this summer as it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I became aware of the movement. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring back a ton of experience to help make SSAPC have an even larger presence on our small campus.