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Interview with Muriel McGregor — Former President, SSA (Utah State University)

2022-12-17

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/10/24

Muriel was born and raised in Logan, Utah. She studied History and French at Utah State University. During that time, she had an enlightenment and left the religion she was raised in — Mormonism. She taught French at a middle school for a few years before going back to get her Masters in Political Science. She founded the Secular Student Alliance Club at Utah State University and has worked to build a secular community in the area. She is an atheist, a lover of knowledge and deep discussions, and an avid runner.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Was religion part of early family life?

Muriel McGregor: I was raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) in Utah. Not only was religion an integral part of my home life, but it permeated the culture at large. My good-standing and success with my family and community were directly related to me doing everything the LDS Church told me to do.

This caused me to have severe cognitive dissonance. Internally, I loved to ask questions, seek information, and dream big. Outwardly, however, I had to go along with the set expectations that 1) I shouldn’t ask questions, but be naturally faithful, 2) I should engage in “womanly pursuits” like home-making and tending children, and 3) my life goal should be to get married as soon as possible and have as many children as I could.

After being exposed to different viewpoints while at Utah State University as well as to historical information available on the internet, I was eventually able to leave the mental stranglehold Mormonism hand on me and formally leave the LDS Church (You become a member at 8 when you’re baptized. This prompts a record of you at Church Headquarters; in order to no longer be considered a member, you have to request that your name is removed and get your Bishop and Stake President to approve it).

Jacobsen: When did you find the larger secular community?

McGregor: After leaving mormonism, I struggled to find a community. I tried hanging out with other post-Mormons but found that the conversation was usually negative. I tried hanging out with more liberal people but found that I was more conservative than most of them in many ways. Meanwhile, I had come to identify as an atheist — in the sense that I grounded my life on empirical evidence gleaned from science and logical arguments.

So, when I went back to do my masters at Utah State University, I founded the Secular Student Alliance Club. It started out small but has gradually grown and become a desperately needed secular community for non-religious students. I have made some of my best and closest friends via the SSA.

Jacobsen: What seems like the importance of secular work on campuses?

McGregor: Research shows that a growing number of students identify as non-religious. Traditionally, organized religion has played a large role in providing immediate social networks, emotional support, life guidance, opportunities for service, etc. When a non-religious student comes to a college campus, if a secular club isn’t there, then they can struggle to find other places to fill that support-network gap. This can lead to many students feeling isolated, lonely, and even deprresed. Consequently, a community-centred secular club can meet these needs that organized religion often does.

Jacobsen: How did you find the SSA? How did you become involved in it?

McGregor: I remember wanting to start a secular club when I went back to do my masters. I did some research — USU used to have a club called USU Reason, but it hadn’t been inactive for several years. I don’t exactly remember how, but I learned about the national organization called the Secular Student Alliance. It seemed like a great opportunity to affiliate our campus group with them — not only would we get free stuff, but it would also connect us with a support team as well as other campus secular clubs. So I registered our club and the rest is history.

Jacobsen: What is your current role at the SSA through Utah State University? Is the experience in Mormon state unique for the SSA work?

McGregor: This year I am advising the club. After starting the club, I was the president of it for 2 years, then the next year I was over service/activism while I gave another person the opportunity to be president. This year, there’s a new president with the old president guiding them. I have stepped back significantly in order to allow new leadership the opportunity to step up; but they know they can always ask me questions.

Definitely. A lot of our club members are leaving or have left Mormonism. They need a community that is going to befriend them, give them advice, and support them through tough times. These club members frequently deal with familial issues and a sense of isolation as a result of coming out secular. Moreover, they now have to process through religious baggage and figure out who they want to be as an independent person. This can all be extremely tough when your family doesn’t support you, Mormonism is all you’ve ever known, and you’re trying to keep up in school. For students who were never Mormon, they are so happy to find a secular community in an area where religion frequently feels omnipresent.

Jacobsen: What tasks and responsibilities come with the position?

McGregor: As an advisor, I monitor the plans of the club. When need is, I make suggestions, provide information, and/or remind them to work on something. In the past, as club president, I planned, advertised for, and implemented all our activities/events. As the service/activism chair, I oversaw several fundraiser parties and collaborative activities with other campus clubs.

Jacobsen: How can students become involved with the Utah State University SSA or the national SSA?

McGregor: Great question! For the national SSA, they can to https://secularstudents.org/ to see if their campus has a chapter. If it does, then they can connect with the contact info provided. If their campus does not have a club and they want to start one, then they can start one on the SSA website. Next, they need to create a club at their university (different campuses have different rules, procedures, etc.). The SSA provides help information for what to do after — planning activities, advertising, etc. For the USU SSA chapter, the best way to join is to find our group on facebook (USU Secular Student Alliance) or email us at ususecularstudents@gmail.com.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Muriel.

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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