On Wednesdays during the academic year, I take the #1 train up to 116th Street and go to my office in Earl Hall on the Columbia University campus. Since August 2010, I have served the Ethical Humanism Chaplaincy there as religious life adviser, and last year was chosen by my colleagues to co-chair Columbia’s United Campus Ministries. What a vibrant community it is! I have participated on discussion panels, taught classes, and collaborated on interfaith programs; dished up ice cream and handed out chaplaincy bracelets at freshman orientations; and, of course, met with individual students.
Especially dear to me is the Columbia Humanist Society which started taking shape in November 2011. Fear not, members of the NY Society! Though young people may not rise early on Sunday mornings to join us for platform services, they do gather late at night to discuss humanism, and travel to other neighborhoods on weekends to perform community service.
Undergraduates Frangell Brasora Fortuna and Michael Taylor Winsor learned about me from a graduate teaching assistant in a religion class and visited my office last fall to strategize forming a club that would appeal to “like-minded” colleagues. I introduced them to my children, who grew up in the Brooklyn Society, and over the winter holidays, they socialized with young people from several societies in the metro NYC area. By January 2012, Fran and Michael were on Facebook and Twitter proclaiming: “Columbia Humanist Society (CHS) is a Columbia University student organization serving humanists, freethinkers, and anyone else who wishes to learn about Humanism and secularism.” However, even in the age of internet social networking, paper fliers plastered on bulletin boards all over campus are still needed, so it took a few weeks to pull together students to draft a constitution, prepare a budget, and elect officers.
So now, in addition to Wednesdays, I often attend meetings with this wonderful group of students on Tuesday evenings and recently joined them in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for a community clean-up. The accompanying photograph shows CHS students at a soup kitchen in Harlem.
In an article for the American Ethical Union online newsletter Dialogue, Fran recently wrote about CHS: “We celebrate our diversity because we understand that our differences are reflections of the world around us. We strive for a greater community that is not limited by categories or attributed standards, but is freed by our willingness to learn from one another and the acknowledgement that we are one, though being many.”
Other humanist chaplaincies are active on the campuses of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; and American University in Washington, DC. The Center for Free Inquiry NYC has organized students at New York University and Bronx Community College; and the Secular Students Alliance has chapters on college and high school campuses all across the country. Children who grew up in Ethical Societies and attend college or are in their 20’s are members of Future Ethical Societies (FES) and hold annual conferences over Memorial Day weekend. This year they are gathering at the Ethical Humanist Society of the Triangle in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Take heart: The next generation of humanists is already here.