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West Virginia University hosts a Secular Safe Zone Training!

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SSA affiliates and members are doing awesome stuff on their campus all the time.  We brag about their work here on our website through the Brag It Up series.  If you or your affiliate group has done something awesome, Brag It Up!

This post is written by Sean Banerjee, a member of the Secular Student Alliance at West Virginia University, about his experience hosting Secular Safe Zone Coordinator Andrew Cheadle-Ford for an Ally training at his school.

In 2013 the Secular Student Alliance announced the formation of the Secular Safe Zone program. The purpose of the program is to help create safe spaces where secular students could question, criticize and discuss topics that are important to them. At the Secular Student Alliance at West Virginia University (SSA-WVU) we aim to help raise awareness on secular issues as well as create a positive and healthy secular community within the university. During the 2013 Secular Student Alliance conference in Columbus, five of our members successfully completed the training program to become the first five Allies within the state of West Virginia. 

In going through the training, we quickly realized the benefits the program would offer to students across the country. As students, we have little to no information regarding who is a friend to secular students on campus. This lack of information often alienates students with no reassurance that the university administration, staff, and faculty are versed in the needs of secular students. Sadly, the secular community lacks any truly well-defined symbols that are worn by the masses to identify themselves.

WVU SSA
Andrew Cheadle-Ford with participants in the first ever Secular Safe Zone training held by a campus group!

Shortly after the July 2013 Secular Student Alliance Conference, we spoke to the Secular Safe Zone coordinator, Andrew Cheadle-Ford, on whether it would be possible to bring the training program to West Virginia University. On October 27, after many months of planning, we became the first affiliate group to hold a Secular Safe Zone training program on a university campus. The workshop attracted twenty members, ranging from faculty, staff, and administrators to students and community members. Following the successful workshop, WVU currently has the highest number of trained Allies of any campus. As a student organization and members of the university community, we are proud to raise awareness on the issues faced by secular students.

The Secular Safe Zone program continues to grow. Many national news outlets, such as The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, have already reported on the program and the benefits it offers to the greater student body. Moreover, prominent atheists such as Sam Harris of Project Reason have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the cause. We strongly encourage other universities across the country to begin actively promoting the Secular Safe Zone program on campus by hosting a training workshop.

By creating a network of Allies, we can all help empower secular students and raise awareness to the challenges they face. Incoming students also greatly benefit from a well-defined support network, as this enables them to easily determine who within the community is willing to address their unique needs. University administrations across the country should consider including the workshop as part of the training provided to resident hall coordinators, counseling staff, etc. It is essential that anyone who works with students is aware of the needs of secular students, as they may not be aware of the unique challenges they face. 

For more information on how to bring a Secular Safe Zone training to your campus or area, please contact coordinator Andrew Cheadle-Ford at info@secularsafezone.org. Thank you so much Sean and the Secular Student Alliance at West Virginia University for hosting the first university training and sharing their experience!

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