Announcing our 2016 Outreach interns, London Sneden & Sam Farooqui

June 10, 2016

We’re excited to welcome London Sneden from Sam Houston State University and Sam Farooqui from Florida State University to the CFI Outreach team this summer! They’ve already proven themselves to be capable and enthusiastic interns with all their hard work at the Reason Rally this past weekend, so we’re looking forward to them joining us for a fantastic summer. Read on to learn more about them:

London Sneden

Hi! My name is London Sneden, and I am an undergraduate student at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas (about an hour north of Houston). I will be starting my senior year this fall and will receive my Bachelor of Science in sociology with a political science minor in the spring. After graduation, I plan to attend law school where I hope to study human rights and constitutional law, and eventually go on to work with precedent-setting church-state separation cases, or in public policy. I have also served as the president of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) at Sam Houston State University for the past two years and am looking forward to my third.

Growing up, my family was never overly religious, but I still attended vacation bible schools in the summer and even went to a private Christian school for a couple of years. Due to this, I came to consider myself a devout Christian from ages six to about fifteen. I have always been a skeptical person, though, and believing was very difficult for me. I had a lot of questions that I was discouraged from even thinking, let alone asking, and felt that I would be socially ostracized for just expressing these concerns. At the beginning of high school though, attitudes changed and I found more accepting peers. Once I began actually questioning my faith, I found answers that led to more questions and from there, it was a quick descent out of religion. By age 16, I openly considered myself an atheist.

At my high school, topics like race, religion, and sexual orientation were not very controversial. My college, which is located in a very rural, conservative area, is a different story. In my hometown, I had never felt as unable to express myself as I felt in this new environment. This inspired me to find other like-minded students on campus, which eventually led me to the SSA at Sam Houston. After joining, I became more aware of various issues involving church-state separation and the impact that religion has on our society that I had previously been blinded to.

The SSA at Sam Houston aims to accomplish two things: educating on and advocating for the separation of church and state and its importance, and providing community for non-religious students on campus. We have weekly discussion-based meetings and “infinity groups” which are themed, member-run, interest-based, community building groups (examples include video game night, bad movie night, work-out group, etc.), as well as multiple socials, community service events, trips, and other types of events each semester.

I am incredibly excited and grateful to have the opportunity to intern for CFI this summer, and cannot wait to see what I can learn and how I can grow from this experience!

Sam Farooqui

Hey, I’m Samreena Farooqui. You can call me Sam. I’m an undergraduate student pursuing a B.A. in psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL, where I served as a founding officer of Secular Student Alliance (SSA) at FSU.

I was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and moved to South Florida when I was seven. That’s where I lived until I moved to Tallahassee in 2013 to attend FSU. I would characterize my faith before I was 14 as “pessimistic agnosticism” perched on top of constant and vague undercurrents of terror—I didn’t feel like god existed, but what if? At around 14, I decided I didn’t really believe, but rather only feared, and that that wasn’t a good enough reason to continue to find valid the worship of something that I wasn’t sure existed. It certainly would’ve been easier if all that was being asked of me was belief, but I was also being asked to go out of my way to worship and submit, and not to some verifiable god, but to some proxies who themselves agreed that they weren’t infallible and therefore worthy. For me, secularism has always been intricately intertwined with political considerations, even before it ever got to being about philosophical or scientific inquiries about the world. Notably, I was never told about “real” supernatural things unless my family could connect it in some way to religion, so once suspicion of the existence of a deity left, so did the rest.

In South Florida, although I was closeted as far as my family and community were concerned, the rest of the world seemed at times to take it for granted that I was skeptical of religion, if not entirely disbelieving of some parts of it. Then I moved to North Florida, where religion comprises a big part of daily life for people whether they want it to or not. While there was a Freethinkers group at FSU when I got there, it existed as a discussion group whose primary focus was only on how inhospitable the surrounding community was. Despite having been part of the #secciesquad for a good while, my involvement in the secular community really began there.

By my sophomore year, the group had let their affiliation with FSU lapse and effectively did not exist anymore. It was at this point that the group was restarted and renamed Secular Student Alliance at Florida State University, having affiliated with several different national organizations, including CFI and SSA, so as to have adequate and ongoing structural support. This past year, SSA at FSU hosted the first ever Southeast Secular Student Regional Conference (S3RC for short), which lasted for two days and was very successful, attracting attendees from all over the American South. At SSA at FSU, we have focused on becoming a part of the greater Tallahassee community and being a resource for other skeptics and nonbelievers in the area. To that end, we’ve adopted a road that we clean on a regular basis and we also regularly volunteer at Brookdale Assisted Living. In the past year, we also hosted an Out of the Darkness Walk with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, as mental health is another one of our focuses.

I look forward to being a productive part of CFI Outreach this summer and my enthusiasm knows no bounds.