The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) is a widespread organization with branches across all of North America. It was founded in May of 2000, by eight student leaders from the Grassroot Secular movement.
The SSA was founded with the intent to give students of different religious beliefs (religious minorities and majorities alike) a safe place to connect with other students and to bridge gaps and promote understanding.
They aim to empower secular students to live meaningful and fulfilling lives being and loving who they are and what they believe as well as set up a tight knit, welcoming community of people.
The Lenoir City High School SSA was established during the 2014-2015 school year by Senior Lily Stephens and Junior Alan Cape.
“[Lily] founded it. Well, she co-founded it with Alan Cape, I believe. And it was because they wanted a non-aggressive place to talk about their non-pious views of things while also being able to learn more about other faiths.” says Harley White (12).
There was originally an outcry of hostility towards the club, with some students going so far as to tear the posters for the club off of the walls and into the trash, or rip them up entirely. However, the club came as a welcome addition to the school for a few students, and the anger didn’t deter Stephens or Cape.
As with any new movement or organization, most of the anger stemmed from misconceptions about the group itself.
“I think more people assume the group to be more exclusive than it really is. The idea is to bridge differences of faith or religion, while also serving a safe space for religious minorities” says White.
White believes this linking of different belief systems is essential to anyone who wants to learn and grow in their beliefs.
“The same reason any aspect of personal culture which differs from your own ought to be experienced, or at least observed and respected. Because without that, people because culturally stagnant, and the only information they have to go off of for those differences are most likely stereotypes, which, although they can be accurate sometimes, can also be harmful,” says White.
White believes that the club (and organization) is doing something essential in building up this community and giving students a safe space to connect and experience other religious and moral beliefs without the backlash they might face other places.
While some SSA branches and even some of the clubs at the school have been long established and are able to do many service projects or take trips, the SSA of Lenoir City is still newly established and as the club grows they will be able to do more, better things and reach out to the community in even better ways.
For now, however, they will stick to cleaning up campus and their main goal this semester is to get a hold of some flower bulbs so that they can plant them and maintain a part of the school grounds.