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An Interview with Will Zieburtz — Vice-President, SSA at the University of Georgia — Part 2

2022-12-10

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/09/30

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is your main concern for secularism on campus moving forward for the next few months, even years?

Will ZieburtzAs previously mentioned, secularism does not really face any real institutional opposition at UGA, and it really does not have much in terms of an anti-secular legacy. However, one thing UGA does have a pretty deep issue with is a legacy of segregation. As an obviously white guy, I personally cannot speak to any current institutional discrimination, but as a historian I can definitely say that the legacy of discrimination and segregation is blatant if you bother to look into it. Apart from numerous institutional buildings named after famous Georgian segregationists, there is a plaque donated by the “Georgia Historical Society” which calls the civil war the “War of Southern Independence”… As a historian I find this gross to say the least. It presents a modern socio-political identity on the campus that I cannot condone. It is in some ways understandable if one looks at southern identity sociologically, but this is somewhat discriminatory and presents a radical regional identity which has been institutionalized much more severely than anything against the secular community could be.

Jacobsen: What are the current biggest threats to secularism on campus?

Zieburtz: There really aren’t many. In a sense our greatest threat is ourselves…. Really our most pressing concerns is a solid line of succession since organizations like ours often fall apart after leaders graduate. That is complicated, but I think we’ll manage for now.

Jacobsen: What are perennial threats to secularism on campus?

Zieburtz: UGA does not do a whole lot to ensure that small clubs are supported generally, and I don’t think this is a problem with the staff, they do everything they can to support us and everyone else. I just hear stories of mythical lands where universities actually fund smaller clubs and don’t force them to pay for every little thing necessary to run a club, rooms for instance. Obviously I cannot be too mad at UGA for this, if a club has more money they probably have more support and represent a larger student population, but at the same time if we had more support or didn’t have to waste so much money on using decent rooms or table space we might actually be larger in the first place. Of course as I’ve mentioned, this is not just an issue for the secular community alone, all small clubs are surely facing similar issues.

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

Zieburtz: We really try to inform the public and our own group as much as possible. We often have talks on subjects which are only tangentially related to atheism to help support our members. For instance we recently had a talk on the biological, human developmental and sociological roots of morality for whenever the topic comes up in discourse with christians that ask where our morality comes form, which seems to be a common question among theists to atheists.

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

Zieburtz: Many of our issues relate to living better as a secular person, like how to deal with the family on holidays or specific issues which come up, like the previous example. We try to keep group topics pragmatically useful or at least comical and interesting. In one case the group let me do a presentation on the historical Jesus in response to the prevalence of “Jesus myth theory” in our community, but that was more about a personal wish to make our community less dogmatic and silly in the face of evidence and expert historical opinion.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved and maintain the secular student alliance ties on campus?

Zieburtz: At UGA you can look us up on Facebook with our old, but catchier, name UGAtheists or the current UGA SSA, it is a secret group so you can join without worrying about being “outed” if you aren’t yet. Or you can email ugasecularstudents@gmail.com and we will add you to our email list for any and all events. I’ve met enough of our colleagues at other universities to know that most would ensure that they were findable with a quick search online. You can also check out https://secularstudents.org/ if there isn’t already an SSA at your school, they are extremely helpful and would love to hear from you if you are considering creating a secular organization at your school. Don’t hesitate to ask, their job is to help you!

Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

Zieburtz: UGA does not discriminate against the secular population on any direct level. Even where they could be helping smaller clubs out more, that is just it, they aren’t harming us it’s just that we could use a helping hand like every other small club with limited funds. UGA has much bigger issues to deal with, like a very real issue of a legacy of latent racism just below the surface. The way that this university has not actively worked to cleanse its past history of racism and segregation is harmful not only to the African American students to but also to the local community which is in some cases literally descended from slaves which worked on campus. As a historian I find it unacceptable to retain vestiges of the past due to a modern misguided and regional social appeal. If one wishes to honour the past, put up new plaques about the legacy of institutional racism, improperly named buildings, that present a balanced view of the era which does not push a modern and yet still backwards social orientation.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time.

Zieburtz: If there is any single point I’d like to emphasize in all of this which might not be completely conveyed in text, it would be that the secular community at UGA is not really discriminated against, but there is at least one community on campus which is. There is even a monument to “confederate dead” just off of campus within Athens Clarke county jurisdiction, making it much more complicated to deal with. I am a native Georgian and I find this absolutely insane and unacceptable. The secular community is doing just fine, but there are real issues to address on our campus and our club leadership is currently looking at ways we can get directly involved in these sorts of issues.

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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