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Student Voice Interview - University of Texas Arlington


This article originally appeared in the SSA eMpirical No. 16 - Student Voice Part II.

Senior Campus Organizer interviews the University of Texas Arlington. Rebecca L. Robinson, president of the group, replies.

Members of UTA's group at their expedition to the Hell House.

I love that you guys went to this Hell House for Halloween (for more info on hell houses, check out http://www.religioustolerance.org/hallo_he.htm or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell_house)! Tell me about this - did they make a convert out of you?

Hardly. We had a group of 14 people go to the Hell House. It was very difficult to keep our mouths shut while watching the horribly misguided scenes. What I learned at the Hell House:

1. Gay kids shoot school bullies
2. Girls that are molested end up as "whores" in high school
3. Psychics are tools used by the devil
4. Doctors that perform abortions will hold someone down and perform the procedure on girls who are wide awake and screaming "No!"
5. First-term abortions look like chunks of cherry pie filling
6. Online dating is sinful

After going through the various scenes (and being temporarily deafened by being in a small room where three guns were fired - with blanks), we were locked in a makeshift coffin as audio bible verses were pumped in. We then went to see the "beauty of heaven" in a bright white room with scenes from The Passion of the Christ playing. From "heaven" we went to "hell" in a dark, musty room with demons walking around telling us that "one sin can get you here."

After leaving "hell" we were escorted into a room with a woman who told us how much the devil hated us and wanted to kill us. After being berated and threatened we were told that there were only two options: the devil or god, and I finally had to speak up and notify the woman that there were more than two options. She informed me that she was telling us 'the truth' and it was 'not open to debate' and asked me to leave. To leave, we had to pass through the 'Prayer Room,' where people were waiting to pray with us. As I walked past the woman who asked me to leave, I asked if they were going to pray for me, she answered with a definitive 'No.' A few others in our group left with me and the rest stayed behind. As she shut the door behind those of us who left, she told the others, 'Those people are going to hell.' Well, I guess now I know.

Some of the members tried to discuss the misinformation being relayed in some of the scenes with one of the people in charge, to no avail. We realized that the extreme measures used in certain outreach tactics, such as the Hell House, are not to convert nontheists. I think they realized that atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, etc. are not going to fall for it. Their goal is to get to the middle-of-the-road believers and turn them into fundamentalists. A few liberal Christians came with us to the Hell House, and they were much more offended than any of the nonbelievers. They were ashamed to be associated with people who felt as if fear was the way to bring people to god.

What came out of your 'Science and Spirit: Can they Mix?' lecture? Are science and religious faith compatible?

I don't think we came out of that discussion with a definitive answer. Some people believe that science and religion can cohabitate. Others do not. It seems to be a reoccurring question in society today. We had a lot of discussion about individual 'truths' and beliefs. Because we have such a diverse group of people, as a whole, we never agree on anything! But we do always manage to have great open discussions in which many views are presented and discussed.

Other groups in Texas are interested in organizing a campus tour with a member of the SSA's Speakers Bureau - Lori Lipman Brown's name has come up several times. Are you familiar with Lori and her work, and would your group be enthusiastic about inviting her to speak (she is a great presenter!)?

We would be extremely interested in having Lori Lipman Brown speak to us. It is past time for us to have a secular voice in Washington.

What can/should student secular groups around the world be doing to protect the values that we all care about?

Starting campus groups is a great start. Once you have people together that care about the same issues, it makes it much easier to get things done, get the word out, and speak up. When you hear of things that are, for instance, a violation of church/state separation, speak up! We had a situation in which a Microbiology professor was attempting to give extra credit to students in her class who attended her bible study. As soon as I heard about it, I e-mailed the Chair of the Biology Department, and it was stopped immediately.

We also need to be more involved in local, state, and national politics. Having national organizations as affiliates helps a lot, as it keeps us updated with action alerts and ways to be involved. I send e-mails all the time to my representatives. I usually get a polite reply back stating why they don't agree, but at least they hear about it.

In your experience, what is the most challenging part of running a campus group? Is there anything that the SSA can do to help?

I feel that I have been extremely lucky with our new group. I started the group by myself, knowing there HAD to be people out there who felt the need for a secular group. By starting a Facebook group (and sending out over 2,000 personal invites), I found a great core of people whose enthusiasm and conviction have made it much easier than I thought it would be. We have received nothing but support and positive feedback from the University. My only regret is not starting it sooner.

The only challenge (so far) that I have come across is figuring out the funding. We don't have any dues, as I have a real problem charging people to share ideas. We haven't really needed much money yet, and any that we did, I have funded myself. I have pretty much been winging this whole thing, as I have never been involved in a student organization (let alone run one) before this. I figure we'll figure it out as we go and when the time comes when we need to raise money, we'll worry about fund-raising then. The SSA has already been helpful in organizational ideas and having resources available. We are still new, growing, and finding our way. In the future, we may need more help, but so far, we're doing okay.

It's also sometimes trying to find the identity of the group. I tried to keep things pretty simple this semester, since it is our first. I eventually want to expand and be more involved in the community. I have so many ideas of things we can be doing, but finding the time and ways to do it is a challenge.

I see in your event announcement posts that you meet in different rooms a lot. Do you have trouble securing a regular meeting room from the administration at UTA?

Reserving a room hasn't been much of a problem. Because we are new, other groups had their room reservations in before us and we had to jump around a little in the beginning. We had one room pretty regularly in the middle of the semester, but we had to find alternate places for our last two meeting, as 'our room' had been previously reserved, but we knew about that weeks in advance. When we have 'movie nights,' we hold that in a different building so that we have the audio/video equipment available. The people who do the room reserving have been cooperative as much as they could.

This article originally appeared in the SSA eMpirical No. 16 - Student Voice Part II.

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