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An Interview with Shawn Polson — President, Secular Students and Skeptics Society at University of Colorado, Boulder — Part 3


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/11/20

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

Shawn Polson: I think the main need is to have a community to be a part of. Most secularists I’ve met have dealt with some pushback for their beliefs, usually from family or friends, and I think it helps to have a space to feel included where they’re treated like rational people. It’s also not super easy to meet new people and make new friends in a new environment like college, so secular clubs like mine can offer younger students a place to make those first connections.

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

Polson: The main concern with secularism on campus is probably always going to be finding future leadership. By nature, groups like SSaSS are operated by students who will only be on their campuses for a handful of years. From what I understand, a secular group in the US is doing well if it has 10–20 active members in it (and really, I think that holds true for most campus groups). It’s easy to attend meetings, have fun, and passively participate in events, but it takes a little more to step up and make it all happen. Lots of groups go through short times of crisis where the current leadership is graduating and they have to find new students to take the reins. I know my time with SSaSS was preceded by that.

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

Polson: I actually wouldn’t be so dramatic as to say there are any threats to secularism at CU Boulder. Everyone is generally onboard with separating church and state, teaching evolution in the classroom, atheists existing, all the good stuff. I’d say apathy is the closest thing to a threat I can think of. We’re already such a secular and liberal school to begin with that it’s easy to lose the drive to get out there and work to advance the secular movement.

Jacobsen: What are perennial threats to secularism on campus?

Polson: I’m too new to the university to be an authority on perennial threats, but I must imagine that apathy would’ve still been the only issue. For all intents and purposes, SSaSS is the voice of the secular movement at CU Boulder. And judging from conversations I’ve had with past leadership, that voice has been quieter at times.

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

Polson: SSaSS is the only explicitly secular group here. Our university has lots of great science-based clubs, however, and we usually have a couple members who are involved with some. “CU Stars” is a great one; they’re the astronomy club on campus. What secularist doesn’t love gazing at and pondering the cosmos? If politics is your thing, CU’s got you covered too. Republican and Democrats alike have thriving groups, and they offer tons of opportunities to get involved with the political process. I’ve done phone banking on campus a couple times, for example.

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

Polson: Oh, so many different things. I’ll start with the discussion topics. There is no set of topics that our biweekly meetings center around, so the best I can do is give past examples, although they do tend to be science-themed. Ten examples of presentations I can remember students giving are:

· The Search for Life in the Universe

· Boko Haram

· Free Will

· Quantum Computers (I did that one)

· The Historical Jesus

· Linguistics for Noobs (that was Dana)

· Astrology

· Arguments for God’s existence

· Secular Morality

· Futurism

We have a smaller set of events that we’ve done since I took over, and I can list those in their entirety. Our biggest events were Lucien Greaves’s talk on campus and the free will panel I hosted. I haven’t decided our biggest event for the upcoming semester yet, but I know SSaSS is going to host a stop in the “Ex-Muslims of North America Tour,” so people hearing this can look forward to that in late September/early October.

We have more regular things that we do around campus to keep ourselves visible including tabling in the UMC, “Ask-an-Atheist” day, “Graveyard of the Gods” (setting up paper tombstones of all the many gods that most of the modern world no longer believes in), the preacher bingo I mentioned earlier, and this semester we’re hoping to run “Fiction for Fiction,” which is where we let students bring us their unwanted Bibles and exchange them for cooler fiction books like Harry Potter or Star Trek.

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

Polson: (cough cough) Join us! The Secular Student Alliance is the larger national organization that SSaSS works under, so we’re the people who maintain those ties. I mentioned this earlier, but we’re a social group on paper which means that there are zero hoops to jump through. We don’t charge membership dues; all one must do is join our Facebook page ( and show up to any of our meetings or events! Our regular meetings are every other Thursday at 6pm in CU’s Eaton Humanities building. I make a Facebook event for every meeting or event we hold, so if you can see that page, you’ll know what we are up to.

Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

Polson: Concluding thoughts? I think you’re a swell guy, Scott. And thanks for having me on. Keep up the good work with Humanist Voices.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Shawn. That was fun.


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


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