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An Interview with Will Zieburtz — Vice-President, SSA at the University of Georgia — Part 1

2022-12-10

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/09/26

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

Will ZieburtzI am a fairly generic white guy. I grew up in the vast homogenized suburbia of northern Atlanta. My family was never particularly religious and I was not raised in any church environment. In a few months I should have undergraduate degrees in History and Linguistics.

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

Zieburtz: I am fairly lucky for a member of our club in that my family was never particularly religious. Sure I grew up on veggie tales, but that is objectively a funny show so I really can’t say I’d rather that had not happened. I think my own personal atheism/secularism was motivated by a worldview informed by very basic historical knowledge. For a while when I was fairly young I would pray to all of the gods I could think of, “Dear God, and Zeus, and Thor, and Ra, and Vishnu, and Buddha, etc., etc., and any other gods I can’t think of…” And then I would say my prayer if I actually remembered it at that point. It was not a long step from thinking I believed in all of the gods to realizing that I was being dishonest and I actually did not really believe in any of them. I suppose even that is more of a gradual process than a single event, but that is about as close as it gets in my case. Since then, as a historian, I have developed a fair bit of respect for theology in general and the different ways that humans manifest their religious belief and the ways that such things affect people and societies. In a sense dropping the dogmatically anti-theistic aspect of my atheism might be a bit more seminal in my specific case, though here again I cannot think of a specific instance.

Jacobsen: You are an executive member of the SSA at the University of Georgia. What tasks and responsibilities come with the position? Why do you pursue this line of volunteering?

Zieburtz: Like most Vice-Presidents I don’t have to do all that much, but one of my functions is to organize our volunteer work in cleaning up a local park which is important to the area. But really I’d say the most important thing our club does is provide a community for secular people at UGA that wouldn’t necessarily have one otherwise.

Jacobsen: What personal fulfilment comes from it?

Zieburtz: Obviously anyone would feel a sense of fulfilment after a day of doing community service in the heat of Georgia to clean a park, but apart from that, being an executive certainly fulfils a fair number of personal psychological needs of having a community and it has provided me with a friend group I would not have had otherwise. I imagine the same could be said for many clubs which are not directly involved in a certain field or major, but I don’t say that to demean the experience I’ve had with our club. One of many things I’d change about my life if I had the information I do now would have been to come here sooner than I did since I’ve mad more lasting friendships and connections with this club than I have most anywhere else in my relatively short life.

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

Zieburtz: It pays to be diplomatic with activism. In the past our organization was a bit more “firebrand” with their public events. That helped them in some ways, but it was clearly harmful in others. As part of the national SSA we’ve tried hard to be a much more diplomatic organization, it might get us less media over all, but when we can actually reach out and make a connection with another human being that doesn’t agree with us it can make the relationship a bit more meaningful and worthwhile. For instance, in the past we’ve tried to raise money for organizations which support religious freedom for numerous populations around the globe, including Christians where they are actually still persecuted in some way. When you can encounter a Christian on campus on a basis like that instead of, “your religion sucks!” you can have a much much more meaningful dialogue with someone, that might personally need it, than you would be able to confronting them in a more aggressive style. Being diplomatic and trying to foster interfaith discussion and activism is definitely worth while and I recommend it to any secular group whether they are on a college campus or otherwise.

Jacobsen: What have been some historic violations of the principles behind secularism on campus? What have been some successes to combat these violations?

Zieburtz: UGA is never blatant in secular violations if they do anything bad at all. In a sense you might say that the way clubs get support is biased toward larger clubs which is a bit like giving preference to the giant bible clubs over us or other minority religious clubs, whether it’s us, the Bahia group or any other small club. Some universities have found ways to help smaller clubs better than UGA, but this certainly isn’t targeting us, it’s just an unfortunate fluke or legacy of administrative policy if anything.

Jacobsen: What are the main areas of need regarding secularists on campus?

Zieburtz: It really isn’t terribly difficult to be secular on our campus, and the resistance we get while doing public events is usually just from fellow students, but really striking up a civil dialogue with those students is one of our main goals when we do a public event. So in a sense our main area of need would be to dramatically reform religious attitudes in the “bible belt”, but if you did that our club basically wouldn’t exactly exist any longer.

License

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 www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© 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.

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