SASHA provides support, social group for ‘non-believing’ students

The student group is planning its second annual conference for this spring.
SASHA tables at the ORG Involvement Fair on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. SASHA is a campus organization for students who identify as skeptics, atheists, secular humanists and agnostics.

It’s not uncommon for students walking between classes to see peers holding “Ask an Atheist” signs in Speakers Circle. These students are members of MU SASHA, aiming to spread the word about their organization and to clear up misconceptions.

Founded in 2009, SASHA stands for Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists and Agnostics. According to its website, the group is “an inclusive group of non-believers led by students” and “the only expressly secular, skeptic group on campus.”

“(SASHA) had kind of a slow start until a couple of years ago, when we started to really pick up and get more involved around campus and in protests,” said Events Coordinator Katie Huddlestonsmith. “A couple of years ago, when I was a sophomore, I applied to be an officer and we really started doing stuff, like having regular meetings, hosting talks and having game and movie nights for people who just wanted to hang out.”

Outreach efforts by Huddlestonsmith and other SASHA members make up several of the organization’s activities. An interfaith social and potluck is planned for Feb. 15. Vice President Chantelle Moghadam is in charge of the event and said it will be an opportunity to develop camaraderie between individuals with different perspectives.

“It’s an effort to get all the religious and non-religious groups together on campus and give them an opportunity to share ideas and find things in common,” Moghadam said. “I think a lot of people think that we’re unfriendly to other religious groups or we don’t want people who don’t identify as atheist or skeptic at our meetings. We really encourage people from every perspective to come to our meetings and hear a different point of view, and we do the same thing as well.”

Quartermaster Sean Donovan said SASHA appeals to him primarily as a setting in which he can meet like-minded people.

“Being an atheist is something that’s really important to me,” Donovan said. “It informs how I think about the world and everything I do. Meeting among a group of people who share a similar philosophy is just very important to me and a valuable extracurricular.”

Huddlestonsmith said growing SASHA has not always been easy because sometimes people take personal offense toward the group, feeling their beliefs are under attack.

She said there is nothing personal regarding the group’s atheist principles, which are defined by atheists.org as “a lack of belief in God or gods,” and that SASHA is as diverse a group as any other.

“I can totally understand people taking offense, because if there’s something you’ve held really close to you your entire life, it’s very difficult to get past someone challenging it and realize that it’s not against any individuals,” Huddlestonsmith said. “We do get generalized because of people in the news like Richard Dawkins, who make other atheists uncomfortable with what they say. Nobody pays attention to what the little guys say; they pay attention to the big guys. Some people think we align with that, but we’re really just as different as any other group.”

Another major event in SASHA’s near future is SASHAcon, an annual conference held in March aiming to help locals get involved in secular activism.

Moghadam said the first SASHAcon, held last spring, required months of planning to iron out the fine details.

“We hit a lot of obstacles along the way, but we pulled it all together in the end,” Moghadam said. “I think last year was probably the most difficult because it was our first, so hopefully it’ll just get easier from here on out.”

Huddlestonsmith said SASHA offers a safe haven to students who may not feel comfortable revealing their atheist beliefs to their family or friends.

“I never grew up religious, so it was a no-brainer for me to call myself an atheist,” Huddlestonsmith said. “But some people worry about being disowned by their family, having their tuition cut off, stuff like that. I love having a group like this where we can all offer support to people like that.”

Moghadam said she hopes to continue clearing up misconceptions about atheists during future activities with SASHA, starting with its first meeting this semester on Jan. 27.

“Over the years, SASHA has allowed us to dispel stereotypes about atheists within our campus and in the area and region, and to give students who may not have ever known other atheists a sense of community they can appreciate,” Moghadam said.

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