Atheist and agnostic students now have access to campus resources provided by junior Avery Winston and senior Maddy Leader, with help from staff of the Chaplain’s and Service Learning Offices.
Currently, these resources are limited to a collection of books on the fourth floor of Hamilton-Williams Campus Center.
Last spring, Winston proposed a resource center for atheist and agnostic students, but the proposal was turned down due to a lack of funds, space and demand. Instead, Winston decided to set up the bookcase for interested students.
“It’s not just about religion; it’s about creating a safe zone for (atheist and agnostic) students,” he said. “There are books here about losing faith, about how to come out (as an atheist), about getting harmed by faith, living well and positively without faith.
“It’s just about showing people they’re not alone…I’m not worried about what’s taught in classrooms or anything.”
The books currently available are mostly from Winston’s personal collection and others donated by friends and alumni.
Winston said he is also seeking $500 from WCSA to get enough books to fill the case, a request that is still under review.
“We deserve something on campus that caters to people of our mindset,” he said.
Leader said her motivation comes in part from a perceived prejudice against agnostic and atheist students that she has encountered as a member of Freethinkers, a campus club that includes diverse views on faith and promotes open discussion of philosophical issues.
After becoming a cabinet member for Freethinkers, Leader and others posted calendars around campus outlining secular holidays.
“The next day, most had been torn down,” Leader said. “…One had been vandalized — scratched up with black marker so you couldn’t tell what was on it.”
Despite this, both say they have found an abundance of support from faith-based organizations on campus. In particular, Winston and Leader point to chaplains Jon Powers and William Hayes, the adviser for Freethinkers, as sources of support for their cause.
They also said Sally Leber, director of the Community Service Learning Office, helped them get permission to use the bookcase in HWCC to make these materials available to students.
Both students wanted to be clear they are merely trying to show support for atheist or agnostic students on campus.
According to Winston, while the materials may espouse a view that is not religious, they are not “proselytizing against faith.”
He said the effort is merely to contribute to the “diversity of thought” on campus and hopes others will understand that.