February 23, 2009

Reaching Out to Atheist College Students

Higher educationImage via Wikipedia

Long-time readers know that I have repeatedly struggled with ways to foster a positive atmosphere for atheist students at the university where I work. I want to provide such students with a safe place where they can find reprieve from the religiously oppressive environment in which we find ourselves. At the same time, I am not particularly interested in going out of my way to alienate the numerous fundamentalists Christian students (and faculty) who walk the same halls of higher learning. I have always been wary of those who use their positions as educators to advance political agendas. The challenge, which remains largely unsolved, is how to provide a welcoming and safe environment for atheist students without alienating the Christians who are equally deserving of a positive learning environment.

You can imagine my delight in seeing that the Chronicle of Higher Education addressed this very topic. Surely I would find some assistance in this highly respected source.

After documenting the need for universities to attend to atheist students, the authors offer some tips for faculty and university administrators:
  • Create a welcoming environment for atheist students.
  • Include atheism in student programming.
  • Ensure that atheists can, like other students, explore their inner development.
  • Create safe spaces that are "atheist only" for students.
  • Look to other institutions for best practices.
  • I appreciate what they are saying, but these recommendations are simply too general to be of much value. What I want to know is how to create a welcoming and safe environment for atheist students. As an individual faculty member, what can I do to help?

    I recognize that many campuses have active groups for atheist students. I would be thrilled to serve as the faculty advisor to such a group, but I am not sure how interested students would even know to approach me about doing so. Clearly, I need to be more open about my atheism at work. I'm willing to do so, but I'm still not quite sure how best to do so.

    H/T to Friendly Atheist

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