The last few years have been kind to both agnostics and atheists, as books like Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” have allowed for secular groups to feel more comfortable talking about their beliefs. The proof simply lies in the growth of secular beliefs like atheists and agnostics among the American population, according to “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” which lists a rise in the number of atheists from 1 to 5 percent. Though this still pales compared to the number of those who identify as religious, 60 percent, it’s a tangible increase that represents the growth of a group with which all types of people identify. So if UCR students are asking whether or not a secular club should be more accessible for students to join, the answer is an easy yes.
A Secular Student Alliance has recently cropped up at the Riverside Community College campus, and recent events like the “Stone a Heathen Day” intended to raise awareness for ostracized secular groups in the past, have provided outlets for a normally withdrawn group of individuals to express their beliefs, much like religious groups at college campuses. “Stone a Heathen Day” offered pedestrians an opportunity to throw water balloons at the “nonbelievers,” and was educational for both religious and secular students, while remaining fun. The event was not intended to bash religious groups, but to unite students and make people aware of some of the awful discrimination of secular individuals in the past. If the number of Americans identifying as religious in recent surveys is truly 60 percent compared to just 5 percent for atheists, then college campuses should serve as places of understanding for secular groups simply to express their views in a civilized way. According to the Secular Student Organization website, campuses across the world are indeed following this strand of logic, as 321 college or university clubs throughout the U.S. are affiliated with Secular Student Alliances.
According to US News and World Report, among American national universities, UCR ranks 12th in ethnic diversity, taking into account the number of minority groups on campus. According to the same methodology, the Riverside campus is tied for third with University of California, Los Angeles for California. It’s obvious that UCR acts as a center for diversity, so shouldn’t its student body be as accepting of as many organized groups as possible? The growing population of secular students is large enough to justify creating an affiliate for secular students, and is a sign of acceptance for a university that quite often prides itself on being devoid of prejudice. This is a great opportunity.
Upon examining UCR’s student portal for community organizations, the page lists over 350 clubs and affiliates for all groups of people to join. There are actually 27 listings for UCR spiritual organizations that unite and make students comfortable across campus, according to the community portal. There is a reason that these clubs exist, and that students still continue spreading awareness for their beliefs to student: because they promote awareness and diversity. It seems that secular groups have been overlooked by the student body, and there just isn’t as much advertising around the campus as there is for religious groups, so the continued growth of the secular affiliate is necessary for making secular students more safe and open to joining the affiliate.
UC Riverside was recently ranked in the top 25 of LGBT-friendly universities according to the popular Campus Pride organization in affiliation with the Huffington Post, as one of the few California college campuses on the list. There are also clear signs around campus of increasing awareness of the LGBT community on campus, with the buildings designed for the LGBT resource center and the events like the “Coming Out Monologues” planned in support of equality causes. UCR students have provided an opportunity for students of all sexual orientations, just as they should continue to provide for secular students.
LGBT and secular issues aren’t the same thing, but there is no doubt that the UCR community has made it clear that a group with which students identify because of their personal identity is welcome on campus, and that students should feel safe and allowed to speak their minds. Though sexual orientation and spirituality are different, UCR’s student body has a duty to make its secular students feel safe, just as it has for the LGBT community.
UCR prides itself on ethnic diversity, and there are multiple buildings and events around campus like the Chicano Student Programs, African Student Programs and Asian Pacific Islander Programs that show off the student body’s tolerance and embrace of its role in Southern California. All ethnic groups are given the opportunity to feel safe at UCR while getting an education, and secular students should have the same opportunity to feel comfortable and together in a learning environment.
As a public university, some might say the UCR student body shouldn’t associate the school with any religious or spiritual affiliates, but as shown by the 27 clubs on campus that are in the category, “spiritual or religious,” UCR survives as a religiously diverse campus. Providing students an opportunity to express their opinions through meeting and making relationships with other secular students is logical, both for the university and secular students, and UCR’s secular affiliate is raising awareness among the student body for tolerance of all paths of life.
Take a page out of RCC’s book, UCR.