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KU's SOMA wins SSA Best Affiliate Award


This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 14 - Challenges & Opportunities.

This article is by Leslie A. Zukor, a second-semester Reed College sophomore who intends to major in anthropology and linguistics. She is the Founder and Signator (i.e., President) of the Reed Secular Alliance, more information about which can be found at: http://rsa-secular.blogspot.com.

What makes a club "the best?" I wondered, when I first perused the Secular Student Alliance website. Is it catchy flyers, a great club name, and some wild secular parties? Events with hundreds in attendance and a stellar service project? According to Secular Student Alliance (SSA) Executive Director, August Brunsman, it is all of these things. "In a Best Affiliate, we are looking for a strong sense of community, having multiple events, and excelling in the areas of the other Best Awards," namely, Best Service, Website, and Best Media.

SOMA at 2006 SSA/AAI Conference
Members of SOMA pose with their Best Affiliate award.

Of the SSA's four annual Best Awards, only Affiliate of the Year doesn't require an application. Was this year's winning club caught by surprise? Not if you ask the leadership of The Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics (SOMA) at Kansas University. According to club Secretary Laney Albritten, "We prided ourselves last year on hosting more events than all the 40+ Christian organizations on our campus combined." Furthermore, Albritten noted that SOMA's "organizational leadership is exceptional, and [President] Andrew [Stangl] is to be commended for leading this group to this kind of recognition."

Andrew Stangl accepting SOMA's award
Andrew Stangl, SOMA President, delivers the acceptance speech for the Best Affiliate Award.

And SSA Board member Andrew Stangl has been key to SOMA's success. "In April of my freshman year, I was thrown into the officer pool," Stangl explains. Since that time, SOMA has been an exceptional presence on the KU campus. Spearheaded by Stangl, the club has hosted a speaking by the author of Losing Faith in Faith, Dan Barker, to a crowd of 500, and had a similar turnout for Joann Bell, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.

In addition to inviting speakers, SOMA has been active in the Kansas community. According to Stangl, "We also have an annual fundraiser called the 'Soul Auction,' which is a combination of a date/slave auction where people sell their 'souls' for money. Half of the profit from this fundraiser goes to SOMA, and the other half is donated to the Douglas County AIDS Project, a local AIDS charity group." Equally impressive is the extent to which the club has gotten press coverage; whenever an alternative voice needs airing, SOMA is there to defend reason, secularism, and science.

In short, in its seven years of existence, the club has had an incredible impact on KU's campus. As Albritten emphasizes, "We show that it really is possible to be good people and not cling to a higher power. I'm very proud to be associated with a group that does helpful community service without the taint of some kind of 'strings-attached' religious requirement." And one can't help but be impressed by SOMA's commitment to secular values. "For those that are familiar with SOMA," Albritten explains, "I think it is a well-known fact that we will always champion reason over blind acceptance, inquiry over dogma, logic and rationale over mystical interpretations. And this campus certainly needs that!" And few exemplify the spirit of Affiliate of the Year like Albritten, Stangl, and the rest of SOMA's leadership. I hope you will join me in congratulating the winners of the 2006 Best Affiliate Award, the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics at Kansas.

This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 14 - Challenges & Opportunities.

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