Skip to content

An Interview with Mary Farrell — Previous Executive, Secular Student Organization


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/10/11

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is family background — geography, culture, language,religion/irreligion, and education?

Mary Farrell: I was raised in a Christian home in a rural area of East Texas. My family attended a Missionary Baptist Church. We were a “working class” family. I was “saved” at the age of 12. I had known since I was 8 years old that I didn’t believe in anything the adults in my life were telling me was fact regarding the religion. I was silent. I played along.

I knew if I didn’t, I would be considered as a “Damien” child straight out of The Omen movie. After high school, I attended college and got a degree in biology. I fell in love with science. Finally, something I could believe in was in my life now.

Jacobsen: What is the personal background in secularism for you? What were some seminal developmental events and realizations in personal life regarding it?

Farrell: My realizations regarding secularism were a bit wacky. When I was very young we had what was known as the “blue law” in effect in Texas. It made no sense to me that I could buy a pair of shoes on Saturday, but when Sunday arrived I was not allowed to. I remember thinking “This is just stupid!” I really thought something was wrong with me because no one else seemed to question it. We watched a television show called “All In The Family” back then. The character Michael Stivic played by Rob Reiner who was the son-in-law of Archie Bunker was an atheist on the show. I was amazed! That was how I knew that I wasn’t crazy, I was normal, and I was not the only one who felt the way I did.

Jacobsen: You were an executive in a student alliance, which went the way of the dodo bird. What tasks and responsibilities came with the position? Why did you pursue this line of volunteering?

Farrell: I went back to college later in life after a divorce. By this time in my life I had connected with many other freethinkers, agnostics, humanists and atheists. The college was located in a small Texas town dominated by Christians. The college had three Christian clubs. There was nothing for the non-religious. I took the initiative to connect with the Secular Student Alliance and start an alliance there. It was rough. The Director of Student Life looked at me like I was insane the day I walked into his office with all of my completed paperwork including the club constitution I had written myself. He informed me that everything was in order, but I probably wouldn’t be able to find a sponsor. With no sponsor, I couldn’t proceed. I spread the word in my secular humanist community. I had a sponsor within 24 hours. Checkmate Mr. Director of Student Life. It was a glorious moment.

Jacobsen: What personal fulfillment came from it?

Farrell: Serving as President of my newly formed SSA, I was helping young people who were non-religious to connect. Some of them were not “out” and now they had a safe place to congregate and be with others like themselves.

Jacobsen: What are some of the more valuable tips for campus secularist activism?

Farrell: When you are involved in secular activism on a campus, be brave. Be ready for backlash. Push forward. When your flyers for meetings are torn down, just replace them with new ones. Don’t engage in debates if you can avoid them. Keep it positive!

Jacobsen: What are perennial threats to secularism on campus?

Farrell: To continue a secular presence, the torch must be passed on to others as student leaders graduate. For many, this leadership role is scary. It takes dedication and time as well. This can be overwhelming for many students, especially when one feels they are under scrutiny because of it. Some secular students will even have lower grades given to them.

Jacobsen: What are the main social and political activist, and educational, initiatives on campus for secularists?

Farrell: Fighting the good fight to maintain secularism is a challenge at all times. Ostracism is a big issue. The main goal is to be accepted for who we are without judgement. Unfortunately, the right versus left issues in the country we are experiencing are amping up the fight to maintain secularism. A fine line exists between activism and extremism. Vigilance must be maintained to not cross that line.

Jacobsen: What were the main events and topics of group discussions for the alliance on campus?

Farrell: Our alliance was basically a support group. We shared stories about our experiences, we learned about new issues and had in depth discussions. We ate yummy food, we played games and we hugged each other when a hug was needed.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved and maintain the secular student alliance ties on campus, especially keep the organization from going kerflooey?

Farrell: SSA groups do the best at four year schools. Ours was a two-year school. It helps to attract new members with flyers, social media outlets, and entice them with free food! Build the group. Make your presence known. Encourage your members to plan activities they would like to participate in. Meet frequently, once a week is best.

Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

Farrell: Even though the SSA is no longer active at this college, I do not consider it a failure. I consider it a success. I was able to do something that had never been done before against difficult odds. My legacy I leave behind is — If I can do it, so can you. Be fearless,push forward and you can be successful. Never look back.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Mary.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: