September 1, 2013

Secular Student Alliance Launches Secular Safe Zone Program

Secular Safe Zone

According to a recent press release received from the Secular Student Alliance (SSA), the group has launched a new Secular Safe Zone program with the goal of defending atheist students against religious bullying in their schools. From the release:

With bullying an increasing concern in the nation, one overlooked minority group is about to get help: atheist students. The Secular Student Alliance announced today that it is kicking off the 2013 school year by launching a new program called the Secular Safe Zone. Modeled after the LGBT safe zone programs, the project trains mentors in student communities to create safe, neutral places for students to talk about their doubts without fear of religious bullying.
I think this is an excellent idea and one we should all support.

I am familiar with safe zone programs for LGBT students, as I have been participating in one at the university where I work for several years. The idea is simple: adults are identified who are willing to provide students with a friendly ear, support navigating a system which is often hostile to them, or just a safe environment in which they can be themselves. I have seen first-hand how helpful a program like this can be for LGBT students.

Having something like this for atheist students is long overdue, and I am glad to see that the SSA is taking this on. In fact, I found myself thinking about this the last time I attended a training session for staff and faculty involved in the LGBT safe zone program. I recall looking around the room and thinking that most of the attendees probably knew quite a bit about the challenges facing LGBT students and next to nothing about those confronting atheist students. Who better than the SSA to help change that?
The Secular Safe Zone program is designed to create knowledgeable and skilled allies across the nation who can recognize and respond to anti-atheist bullying. Volunteers are given training on subjects including identifying and understanding secular students, speaking up against discrimination, and dealing with resistance from the community. After completing the training, allies receive signs to designate their classroom or office as a Secular Safe Zone.
Yes, I think this sort of thing would be extremely valuable, particularly in areas plagued by fundamentalist Christianity. There are far too many myths and misconceptions about atheists, and I see these from time-to-time even among highly educated and otherwise tolerant individuals. Atheist students deserve better.

The Secular Student Alliance (www.secularstudents.org) is a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit that organizes and empowers nonreligious students around the country. Their primary goal is to foster successful grassroots campus groups which provide a welcoming community for secular students to discuss their views and promote their secular values.

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