Authors: Sophie Cote and Charlotta Lebedenko, sophomores
Thanks to the Ambassadorial Grant opportunity offered by the Honors Program, we were able to attend the Humanism and Self-Respect conference hosted by Periyar International and the American Humanist Association in Maryland. Humanism is an international movement dedicated to promoting secular values and the pursuit of truth through scientific empiricism. Our passion for humanism was largely inspired by the conversations and lively debates we had in many of our Honors classes, such as Ancient Philosophy with Professor Miller and Medieval Theology with Professor Davis, where we were able to hear a diverse selection of views on topics such as ethics and religion. The chance to meet speakers from around the world dedicated to humanism provided us with the invaluable opportunity to learn and network. This conference, which placed a significant emphasis on Periyar and the humanist “Self-Respect Movement” in India, expanded our previously narrow views on humanism in the world. We had not imagined that there would be such strong, established communities of humanists in other countries such as India, and having the opportunity to meet members of that community gave us new perspectives that we will implement into our own secular experience and journey at Fordham. In addition to spreading awareness about the Periyar movement in India, the conference hosted passionate speakers from the American Humanist Association and a group of secular activists and authors from Germany. We had many opportunities to speak with these prominent members of the humanist community, some of whom actually live in New York, which has provided us with a strong, lasting network of secular leaders throughout the world.
We are currently in the final steps of starting a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance here at Fordham. This organization provides a community for atheists and agnostic students on college campuses. We feel that the presence of a secular club on campus, especially at this religiously-affiliated school, will provide a safe space for students who may feel that their religious views are a minority on this campus as well as allow students who may be questioning their religious identities to explore free of judgment. There is a pressing urgency to shatter the stigmas surrounding the truly harmless titles of “atheist” or “humanist,” and we believe it is beyond important that secular students have a safe space and a platform to explore their own views just like any religious student would have access to. At the conference, we were able to meet Ryan Bell, the National Organizing Manager of Secular Student Alliance. He is the creator of the podcast “Letting Go of God” and is an author at the Huffington Post. Ryan gave us valuable advice on how to make our new chapter engaging and meaningful on a campus that desperately needs it.
As students deeply invested in the humanist cause, this conference provided an opportunity for us to meet other humanists and learn about the different ways to get involved in secular issues. We will apply the lessons we learned at this conference to our roles as leaders of the Secular Student Alliance at Fordham.