Engaging with Your SSA Chapter
The ideal relationship with advisor and student leaders is more art than science. Each chapter is unique and your relationship will likely require some trial and error, but here are two general principles to keep in mind:
- Your role is advisor, not leader.
- Get close to your chapter, but not too close.
You probably have your own set of strong beliefs, ideas, and goals for the chapter. It is important to be aware of these and still allow the student leaders to direct the chapters goals and activities. You should, of course, offer ideas and input, but the student leaders should direct and manage the chapter.
A few things to keep in mind when advising a secular student group:
- SSA chapters often draw a very diverse group of students. The students often have very different backgrounds and worldviews. As a result they may not have a set of common beliefs or interests. This is not a bad thing, and allows the group to participate in many different activities and programs. Forming a secular community around the group's interests (once the group figures that out) can be hugely beneficial and empowering to the group; whether it be a focus on community service, social justice, women's or LGBT rights, separation of church and state, or more!
- Students may also be away from their home lives for the very first time and that this is all a new experience to them. They may seek community but have not worked out exactly what they want out of a community or group. Encouraging the group to try a lot of different activities and types of programming will allow the group to find out what benefits the membership (and gets them excited and involved) the most.
Many advisors see a ‘normal' advising role as existing to simply help with admin needs and occasionally interjecting themselves to make sure the group survives and is recruiting. While group survival and recruitment is a key way for an advisor to be involved, there might be a lot of room, and need, for growth in your role as group advisor.
- You may want to make yourself available as more of a resource to this group than you might to a typical student group. You could become an active participant in the group’s planning meetings, to make sure that they can access any resources they might need. You might also want to draw from your experience and knowledge to help guide them or offer ideas on programming.
- Try to make yourself available to students one-on-one if you can. This might be the first time a student has been open about their non-religious identity, and this can be hard. If they need more than you can offer them, be sure to point them to others on campus who can help. You might also consider becoming a Secular Safe Zone Ally.
- We know that you have many of your own commitments. Don’t get in over your head. Find out what balance works best for you and the group.
Additional ways you may wish to serve as an SSA Chapter Advisor:
- Become an active participant in the group’s planning meetings, to make sure that they are aware of the resources that are available to them. You might also want to draw from your experience and knowledge to help guide them or offer ideas on programming.
- Make yourself available to students one-on-one. This might be the first time a student has been open about their non-religious identity, and a sympathetic listening ear might be just what they need. If they need more than you can offer them, be sure to point them to others on campus who can help. Also, consider becoming a Secular Safe Zone Ally.
Videos by and for advisors
Barry Markovsky, advisor to SSA at USC, discusses the balancing act of providing support for an SSA affiliate without overpowering the student leadership.
Dan Batcheldor, advisor to SSA at FL Tech, discusses the balance between Advisor and Overlord