Conversation with Alex Zharichenko — Event Coordinator (2015), Technology Officer (2016), Cumberland Valley High School’s Secular Student Alliance
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Why did you become involved in a secular group on campus?
Alex Zharichenko: This came from after watching the Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate my freshman year. I have in previous years declared myself as an atheist but never thought too much of it then I just don’t believe. After watching that debate I found other videos discussing the silly ideas of creationism and from there spark me to become more involved into atheism. I was a bit radical at first wanting to debate everyone,
but I eventually formed my values and mellowed out. Eventually, I wanted to actually start a secular student alliance at my school which led me to discover there was already other students trying to do this, so I joined them and got involved.
Jacobsen: What makes these particularly important student groups to form on campuses for activism and community?
Zharichenko: Driven people that want to make a community. The environment that was made by Stephen Hoover was a wonderful one where various students can be very open. For some reason being an atheist, agnostic, secularist, etc. we use that as a point of similarity between each other and from there we all share other common interests the go beyond just religion. Like the community that this club cultivates is incredible, we all are getting along and discussing many various topics. Because of this club me and the original leader, Stephen Hoover, have become really close friends discussing topics about psychology, behavior, and many other things. I think these clubs form on campuses because there were some driven people that really want to bring people together in a wonderful community.
Jacobsen: How can students become more involved earlier on to improve their student experience?
Zharichenko: By either starting clubs like the SSA in their own school or searching for clubs, conference, meetups, or local groups in their area. I know in my state of Pennsylvania we have an annual atheist conference, which I attend one year and it was fantastic. Lots of great information that I got from that conference. SSA clubs are becoming more prevalent in schools and campuses so they are becoming much easier to find. And if all else students can get involved with local groups in their area. I know in PA we have multiple of theses groups such as Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, The Free Thought Society, Center for Inquiry Pittsburgh, and many others.
Jacobsen: What is the ratio of irreligious to religious student groups on campus, at least at the time?
Zharichenko: The ratio was around one to four. Now as to my knowledge there are just two religious clubs that still stand at CV(Cumberland Valley) both being for Christians.
Jacobsen: How did you found Cumberland Valley High School’s Secular Student Alliance?
Zharichenko: I discovered the CV Secular Student Alliance from looking at the SSA’s website. Then had a link to a Facebook page and from there I slowly became part of the club. The only reason why I went out of the way to look up if a club exists at my school was that I wanted to start a secular student alliance at CV. But thankfully there were people like Stephen Hoover who were already at it and that found a teacher to advise the club.
Jacobsen: What tasks and responsibilities came with being the president?
Zharichenko: Unfortunately being president of the club didn’t last long. The teacher we had as the adviser the previous year picked up two clubs and didn’t have time for the CV SSA. I didn’t want to go through the headache of finding a new adviser so I just dropped the club. I already had two other clubs to managed with the CV Computer Science Education Club being the club I focused mainly on. I’m kind of sad I didn’t continue the CV SSA because it was such a wonderful club and great environment to be in. It was also great to gain a perspective that I didn’t have, I never was religious in my life to hearing people how they got out of religion was fascinating to hear.
Jacobsen: What are your next steps in activism and secularism and organizing for that secular future?
Zharichenko: As of now I just entered the University of Pittsburgh as a Computer Science Major, and during my orientation week, there was a student activity fair. Right off the bat, I found my university’s secular student alliance which is how I will be involved with secularism and activism for the rest of college. For the future, I might join a local group, but for now, my focus is on my studies and computer science.