We all know what happened this November 8, and have all seen reactions to it. In light of that, Jonathan Hay, founder of the SSA at Texas State University, shared this letter to his old group and us. We share it with you in its entirety, as it reflects the feelings and values we at SSA National have as we move forward into a contentious period of American history:
In early 2011, during my first semester at Texas State, I walked from a class at ELA to Supple. Along the way, I passed tables for several religion-based student orgs. I remember thinking, "There should be a group for me", and got to work. I reached out to SSA, found supportive faculty, and, with faculty assistance, started a campaign to find members. Within a few weeks, we found the necessary members to make the student organization official. The day classes let out for Spring Break, we held our first official meeting.
The first few semesters weren't easy. We lost as many members as we gained, and growth stalled. One student emailed me to explain why she could not support the group. It was over the messaging, and the fact that we came across as too aggressive. I, being new to student orgs, and frankly the secular movement as a whole, didn't understand right away. I was angry and confrontational, and that's the tone I set for the group.
Reflecting on last night's election, I feel angry again. I assume many of you do as well. With that, I'd like to share what happened next and offer you some lessons I took from those early years.
The group was shrinking, so we got to work. We reached out to our fellow student organizations, and built a network. We didn't agree with everything, but we agreed on one key principle: people need support, they need to belong, and they want understanding. We shared members, and our group grew tremendously. You have all of those things, and you should share them.
Do what we did. Reach out!
Reach out to Feminists United. Reach out to Lambda. Reach out to everyone. Let them know that they have allies, and don't be afraid to ask for support as well.
I'm afraid right now. I don't know what the future will bring. I assume you're afraid too, and I can promise you other students and organizations are afraid. It's okay to be afraid, and it's okay to be angry, but please, please, please don't let that set the tone of what the group becomes, not that I think that's what you'd do.
Texas State will need progressive organizations now more than ever. I am so happy that the new leadership has stepped up and saved the group from being dismantled. I hope that the group continues to grow, and serves as a safe and welcoming environment. Mostly, I hope you find solidarity with other organizations, and their members who need support.
SSA National encourages all our groups' to work together with those that share our values, to create lasting relationships, and to build a network of ideologies that cannot break against the oncoming tide. We remind everyone of your groups Minimum Standards agreement with the SSA, and hope to see your work in creating a humanistic and inclusive community.
Murray State University Secular Student Alliance!
"The kittens have helped attract a lot more people to our tabling events and have enabled us to converse with many people who may not have stopped at our table otherwise."
Stef Stephans, Vice President
Many groups table, as it is one of the most reliable ways to get new prospective members and combat the negative stigma against secular identities. Murray State SSA has upped their tabling game by adding one extra feature: their president's kittens, Tuvok and Seska! The first day tabling with the kittens, they quadrupled the total number of students that had previously subscribed to their email list! Many students stopped to pet the kittens, but stayed to engage in conversation and find out a secular community exists for them. Other groups should feel just as empowered to add that bit of creativity and cuteness in their tabling efforts, and make sure to send us pictures when you do!