“We want to see a thriving atheist, humanist or secular society in every institute of Higher Education in the UK and Republic of Ireland, networked together, with a shared voice in public life, whose members can contribute to and be part of the wider national and international movement”. Aim of the AHS, from the Constitution.
I am still as passionate, determined and excited to fulfil the principles of the AHS as I was the day I became the regional officer for the East Midlands, to the new societies officer in this important organisation. Working to fulfil the aims of the AHS in its truest form while I have occupied my position has been a privilege and one which I hope to continue for at least the next year ahead. I believe the AHS have made significant leaps forward in the past year due to the contribution of the committee and of course its committed membership. I hope to continue the improvement, and make greater leaps forward to see a thriving atheist, humanist or secular society in every institute of Higher Education in the UK and Republic of Ireland, if I am to be your president next year.
I have been engaged with a multi-faceted position which has a host of priorities while I have been new societies officer. The more important by far of these priorities however, has been to fulfil the aim to support students in establishing AHS societies at their universities. Due to this, we have expanded our reach further than ever before. The AHS now covers every part of the country whether that is at the University of Leicester last year, to the University of Cambridge, Birmingham City, Loughborough and Queen’s Belfast.
Furthermore, this year I have travelled to new societies with the campaigns officer Alexa Robertson, to provide support for those societies which have just set up. This is in order to show that the AHS cares about the wellbeing of their committee and members, and it is this style of leadership I hope to bring to the AHS if I am elected. This venture has been well received by society members, having an opportunity to openly discuss, with other members of the committee, the plight, structure and longevity of their societies within their localised students’ unions. I feel that while it is essential for individual aspects of the AHS to have autonomy, it is also necessary that we are joined up and communicate regularly.
I am also grateful to have Richard Acton presiding on these meetings too, which has been invaluable to the process. Furthermore, working with the University of Birmingham Atheist, Secular and Humanist Society committee to hold a convention, this event furthers the opportunity for the AHS to support a society directly to raise their profile amongst the societies at their students’ union, religious included, and to raise awareness of non-religious alternative views at the university. So, it’s been a great year, and I aim to continue working with the same tenacity and enthusiasm because working for the AHS is all I do!
In addition to my MSc at the University of Nottingham, and my role as the New Societies Officer for the AHS, I have worked to raise awareness of apostasy and the plight of apostates at universities. I was invited to talk at UCL by the organisation Faith to Faithless in October, where I identified an apostate-tripartite model: firstly, people that have left their religious faith, secondly, people who are doubting their religious faith, and thirdly, due to the lack of community and support, consequently associate back to religious communities. I further raised the lack of support available to apostates which includes students at universities, and the need for humanist and secular organisations to facilitate support. Consequently, I am working with Faith to Faithless to find a way to address these issues, which is a central plank of my plan to expand the aims and duties of the AHS. Raising awareness of the plight of apostasy at universities is not just personally important to me, but important for all non-believers in my view, and I have attended all engagements I have been invited to such as ones at Nottingham and UCLan. Due to the nature of having your deepest beliefs and views challenged and scrutinised, this increases the likelihood of students wanting to find an alternative view to the stagnancy of the religious societies, and a need to find a new sense of community. This significantly increases the need for AHS societies to be functioning at universities across the UK and Ireland: something I was able to be a part of throughout this year.
So, what is the importance of AHS societies, if the above is one of the needs? Every AHS society operates as the functioning alternative to the stagnant stereotypes, misogyny and fear depicted by religious societies amongst the student population. AHS societies are an open forum for people to question, challenge and be-challenged about the issues relating to society today, holding their students’ unions accountable for censorship and differentiation, to having fun with ‘Think & Drink’ sessions too! For a student looking for like-minded people, and for apostates looking to join a community of people, finding an AHS society is similar to a leprechaun finding the pot of gold under a rainbow! So what’s the aim? The aim is to continue doing what is being done: helping students start societies at UK and Irish universities. But how do we do this?
Within my role as the New Societies Officer, I have travelled with Alexa to new societies, meeting entire committees has provided me a greater understanding of the operations and the means to which AHS societies function. Every AHS society functions differently, and consequently it is naive to believe that one rule can apply to every single society. The most significant reason as to why this may be true is due to the differences between each Students’ Union. Each Students’ Union operates independently with differing policies, legislations and social structures to the next union, and this creates and increases differences as to how societies are able to run. Consequently, by visiting societies, the AHS can truly comprehend the complexities of the societies and offer further support and advice specific to the society and the variations at their Students’ Union. I aim to continue visiting new, developing, and developed societies to continue learning about societies and the (awesome!) people that run them. What is important, is that while AHS societies are different across the country, the organisation as a whole needs to enable each to continue to grow.
Conventions, conventions, and reason weeks too! But… they are stressful, difficult, and complicated, why would you want to run one? Travelling to societies, and talking to committee members, we were informed continuously about the need for more opportunities and events for people to meet new people, network with like-minded individuals and have the opportunity to listen to a variety of different speakers. I believe conventions and reason weeks are the most appropriate means to achieving this.
Conventions; in addition to the national convention held in London, are a great means to bring more people together, and an opportunity to raise a greater awareness for the issues that we are all passionate about. Conventions provide an opportunity for societies to firstly, gain experience in organising an event on such a scale by managing budgets, a variety of speakers and a bigger audience. Secondly, conventions provide the society a fabulous opportunity to stand toe-to-toe (and to show how great you guys are!) against the perceived superiority of religious societies on campus! AHS societies and the National AHS needs to find its voice, and this is an opportune medium in which to find that voice, and let it be heard, with the aim to hold at least two conventions through the year. Our aim as highlighted before is to enable individual societies to put on conventions by directing our time and resources to the task.
On the other hand, reason weeks are an alternative means for societies to hold events throughout the week, which provides societies the opportunity to engage students at university campuses: for example, UNASH.ASHAMED reason week at the University of Nottingham, Being Human(ist) at the University of Sheffield, the reason week at the University of Southampton and the University of Leicester inviting AC Grayling to name a few. The nature of reason weeks increases the presence of AHS societies on campus, and further promotes rationality and the ability to question perceived stereotypes and stigmas. Having an established reason week for AHS societies to carryout events and activities increases the level of cohesion between the network of AHS societies.
It is vital for AHS societies at universities to survive the handover period. Why? The functioning and survival of the National AHS is dependent on the survival of your society, without which the National AHS remains incomplete. So it is necessary for the National AHS to emphasise the need for societies to be aware of the handover process and the need to handover their society to the enthusiastic and passionate people looking to fulfil the duties of the society the following academic year. But this doesn’t answer the ‘why?’. AHS societies, as mentioned above are necessary to function as the alternative to religious societies and provides students with the opportunity to find like-minded people to form a community of people. Without AHS societies, these people are stranded, and we cannot allow this to occur. So, the aim is to publish the AHS newsletter on a frequent basis, with updates and news from the executive and societies. In addition, by visiting societies we can discuss the intricacies of the handover process, offer guidance in the forms of checklists and guidance by contacting us! Furthermore, special edition newsletters featuring information on special events, such as: Non-prophet Week, Interfaith, Reason week and the Glen Carrigan Memorial Lecture.
AHS societies are continuously cautious of the policies and legislation at students’ unions in relation to free speech and safe spaces. The incidents at Goldsmith’s and Warwick further the need for societies and the national organisation to campaign on issues of free speech, in relation to the Spiked survey. Furthermore, stances held by NUS and the contention received against AHS societies and the need for safe spaces needs further investigation.