An Interview with Secular Student Society at Miami University — Part 1
*Audio interview has been edited.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is your family background — geography, culture, language, religion/irreligion, and education?
Secular Students of Miami University (SSM): My family moved from Greece here to Ohio when I was very young. My mom raised us. She raised our family under the Greek Orthodox faith, but not really strictly religious — more so in a cultural sense. We didn’t go to church often. It was mostly attendance at services for Christmas and Easter, which we called “Eastermas.” This faith was not strongly intertwined with my identity. Cultural background, very strongly Greek.
I didn’t have to question any part of my identity or assess my reality until I came to college. It was so different from the diverse schools of my hometown. I am a student at Miami University, liberal academically but the opposite demographically. Miami breeds a crop who are conservative, wealthy, and religious. For someone who doesn’t have part of my identity in any of the above, I need to constantly remind myself of my values.
The further along in my studies, the more I am able to gain exposure to humanism. I think of it as going to school to unlearn, not learn [Laughing]. Realizing all my perceptions and adjusting towards compassionate neutrality of secular humanism. Secular humanism also complements my studies as a psychology student in the pre-law program, with a minor in the philosophy of law.
SSM was a springboard for my growth as a community of students who share similar ideals.
I think SSM has helped build that sense of community. We stress secularism and humanism — they go hand-in-hand with the organization.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the personal background, what is the specialty in psychology?
SSM: Psychopathology, which is abnormal psychology. I had this need to understand the why and how in the damaging effects of abnormal psychology that I had seen.
I actually started as a pre-med student studying microbiology because science was pushed and my family is full of doctors. I didn’t really think I had much of a choice. There is this expectation in my culture.
You had one of the big three: engineer, lawyer, and doctor [Laughing].
SSM: I wanted to follow through on that, make my family proud, and support them. I would work as hard as I could to repay my family. I wanted to follow through on that unspoken promise of success.and I think part of that included accepting the religious beliefs presented to me.
Jacobsen: With a Secular Student organization, why do you pursue this line of volunteering?
SSM: This is a hard question…because I don’t consider SSM as volunteering. We promote progressive ideals meant to improve human life. It just made sense.
When I went to college, I had the chance to re-think everything. Religion, sexuality, morality — everything. I have this sense of independence. I decided that I didn’t want my actions to intentionally cause harm to any living thing. Alongside that, I became vegan. This choice I think it definitely impacted the way I see the world through a greater focus on being intentional.
I realized I felt no connection any higher spiritual thing and do not feel a need for that connection, I don’t think I ever did in my life. But I do feel connected through human compassion and mutual understanding. I have always been curious about the world and the life circumstances of others, what are they struggling with, how can I relate or understand it. I felt the need to help people and especially not cause harm any living thing.
Secularism and humanism promote these values; a push to see everyone as equal with this neutrality that should carry through to everything — through the appropriate form in the sense of what goes on in the state.
Being exposed to friends who are all different religions and nationalities and discovering the richness in that, and the peace among all of those different friends, I wanted that something promoted that at university, where it wasn’t.
SSM is a secular organization. Students who don’t identify as secular, or are simply interested in hearing the perspective, or are an atheist, agnostic, or religious all come. We have discussions, debates, spread awareness of secularism, and spend time together as a community.
Usually, our discussions are political, cultural, social topics during the meeting, not religious. But the religious perspective of those who attend are always welcomed. We wanted to create that respectful atmosphere where it was lacking.
We got some backlash from the campus because — I don’t even know the percentage who identify as Christian — the majority is Christian, conservative. It is hard to have our presence be accepted or even known on campus with the overwhelming Christian and conservative presence.
We are just a rag tag group of like-minded free thinkers trying to get an event together and keep open perspectives. Getting all our members together for a meeting would be like trying to get a group of cats all together in the same room.
SSM: [Laughing] It is very difficult. We may not have the support or exposure of more well-known student organizations, but even so, SSM has in a sense become like a family. I feel better knowing I am pursuing a line of work that can only benefit humanity and keeping my mind open. Being part of an organization that is neutral and non-partisan, that is not limited to adherence in a set belief system, seems the only way to be truly fair and to prepare for me for the future.