An Empowering Weekend

This summer, secular student leaders from across the United States – from Portland to Puerto Rico, including one from Canada – attended the 18th annual SSA Conference at Ohio State University.

“Getting involved with the SSA, starting a chapter, and attending the conference are all decisions that have positively changed the entire course of my life,” said Raghen of Minnesota State University, Mankato. “The conference gave me an outlet to have enriching conversations, learn about leadership, and plant the seeds of a plan to have an incredible upcoming school year!”



This year’s conference theme was Curiosity. Compassion. Courage. “These are, you might say, the three primary virtues of secular humanism,” said conference organizer, Ryan Bell. “The life of the mind is sustained by curiosity and there is no end to the wonders of the natural world that are open to our exploration. Curiosity leads to compassion – from our heads to our hearts, so to speak. And after falling in love with our world in all its beauty and diversity, humanism invites us to act courageously on behalf of the people and natural order that is the only world we get.”


“The SSA Conference has been one of if not the most rewarding experience that I have had this summer,” said Texas A&M student Sean. “Seeing the potential that our chapter has through the accomplishments and dedication of other leaders has given me a new sense of motivation to grow our chapter into something that can truly have an impact both within the Aggie community and beyond. I can’t wait to see what this next year has to offer.”


The conference began on Friday morning with workshops about ending sexual assault on campus, by Jill Davis, and personal empowerment, with Stan Pearson. Pearson’s teaching was all about helping students build their confidence and be the best versions of themselves that they can possibly be. Friday concluded with a mind-expanding talk from keynote speaker, Dr. Heather Berlin, who is a neuroscientist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. In addition to being a researcher, she is active as a science communicator and hosts Startalk All-Stars, hosted the PBS series Science Goes to the Movies, and the Discovery Channel series Superhuman Showdown.

Saturday featured dozens of workshops, ranging from “How to Master Team Leadership” and “A Five-Point Plan for Growing Your SSA Chapter” to “What Is Interfaith Without Faith” and “Social Justice Is Not Up For Debate.”

Many of the workshop sessions were led by students. Peer-to-peer learning is an essential part of the SSA Conference and an important way for students to not only build their leadership skills but also meaningful relationships. The day was bookended by plenary sessions featuring Rajani Gudlavalleti and Bart Campolo.

The conference wrapped up on Sunday with an inspiring talk and challenge from Arizona State Representative Athena Salman and a panel discussion with Salman and key leaders in the secular movement, talking about what students can do to advance a secular future in our country which is inclusive of everyone.

SSA’s goal in holding the annual conference is three-fold: bringing students together from across the country to build meaningful relationships, to deepen their leadership ability in the specific skill set of community building and secular activism, and to inspire and challenge their thinking on a variety of secular issues and values that affect their daily lives.

“Being able to network with other student leaders was invaluable,” said Armando from Los Angeles Mission College. “I genuinely feel that people I met this weekend truly care and want to participate in ushering a new era.”

The Secular Student Alliance would like to thank everyone involved in the 2018 SSA Conference for another fantastic event!

A special thank you to all our sponsors, including the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Secular Coalition for America, Interfaith Youth Core, Black Nonbelievers, and many others.

Join us next year, July 12-14, 2019, on the USC campus in Los Angeles, for the 19th annual SSA Conference. If you’d like to support students from across the country in creating secular community on America’s campuses, check out the work our students are doing and become a member today.

Leave a Comment