This Week (Group Starting Edition) - Appealing To A Hesitant Administration
While some groups get started on campus with full support of their administrations and community, sometimes it can be a struggle. Sometimes it's because your administration doesn't understand what your group is actually doing. Sometimes it's because they have incorrect assumptions about the nature of your group. Sometimes it's because a religious administrator is allowing his or her convictions to color his or her judgment. Whatever the issue, we have some strategies and tactics for presenting your group in a way that's more likely to be welcomed as a part of your campus.
The best way to encourage your administration to support your group is by presenting your group as a positive addition to your community. If you can convince your school that a secular group will enrich and better the campus, you're golden! We've found that this approach is successful in many cases, and leads to a stronger relationship than threatening lawsuits and claiming discrimination. (Although if your campus or administration is discriminating or throwing up illegal blocks, contact us – we can help!)
There are several ways to frame your group in a positive light. One is by appealing to the marketplace of ideas. Schools and campuses are often seen as places where ideas are brought to light, discussed and evaluated. Your group is bringing a brand-new idea and worldview into this marketplace – not only for the students participating in the group, but for anyone on campus who interacts with it. Your group has the potential to enrich the educational experience of every student on the campus by providing them with ideas that they might not encounter elsewhere.
Another way to present your group is as helping to meet the needs of a minority demographic. Students with no religious identification are a huge demographic group, and they're growing fast. Your group is enabling your campus to embrace and support this largely invisible, marginalized and under-served student group. This could put them on the leading edge of diversity and multiculturalism on campus - without the school needing to hire another staffer for the multicultural center! For more information about this kind of framing, check out the article “Invisible, marginalized, and stigmatized: Understanding and addressing the needs of atheist students” by Kathleen Goodman and John Mueller, or “Nontheistic Students on Campus: Understanding and Accommodating Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists and Others” by our own Director of Campus Organizing Lyz Liddell and Chris Stedman.
(If you can't get a copy of either of these through your institution, contact us!)
Administration still not sold? Try showing them how many nonreligious students are actually out there. We have a collection of studies and surveys about nontheistic students on our website at www.secularstudents.org/polls. In particular, the ARIS 2008 survey and the accompanying “Nones” report do a great job of highlighting just how many young people don't believe in any god. Sometimes just being presented with the facts about the situation can help make an administration more eager to help.
If your administration or campus is still pushing back after you try these approaches, contact us! We can help tailor an approach to your specific campus, or we can try other methods to help get your administration to soften up. And, if your school is actually breaking the law by opposing your group, we can help connect you with some awesome secular lawyers to let the school know in no uncertain terms that what they're doing is unacceptable.
Good luck, and keep in touch!