Interview with Stephen Wilder – President, Secular Student Alliance Louisville

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Stephen Wilder is the President of the Secular Alliance Louisville at Louisville University. Here we talk about his life, work, views, and role.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is family background, e.g., geography, culture, language, education, and religion or lack thereof?

Stephen Wilder: My dad grew up Christian but converted to a Black Hebrew Israelite. The rest of my family are Christians. Most of my family is spread from Michigan down to Texas with a range of education, mainly high school graduates at best.

Jacobsen: What is personal background including the discovery or development of a secular outlook on life and philosophy?

Wilder: My venture into atheism began with YouTube videos. Predominately a lot of videos of people commentating on “SJWs” and other far right-wing videos. Over time I dropped the bigoted views, but atheism stuck around.

Jacobsen: Looking at the landscape of the secular life at Louisville University, what is the secular/religious status of Louisville University – its foundation and founding culture as a university, and its development over time into the present? 

Wilder: Louisville is in the south, so naturally there is are more religious people here. Luckily, we are also a very diverse campus where generally there are minimal problems with people of different faiths, or none.

Jacobsen: Who are the major groups and figures of controversy over time regarding secular matters on institutional grounds? 

Wilder: There are plenty of churches around the city that come to campus and often berate the students that pass on their way to classes and eat. Funnily enough, the students will often crowd around and fight back with them and protest them until they leave. It makes recruiting people for SSA much easier.

Jacobsen: If we take into account the culture surrounding Louisville University, what is it?

Wilder: We have a very diverse culture here at Louisville. Bigotry is not tolerated here, and we welcome diversity. It doesn’t mean everyone embraces the ideals, but more people believe that than not.

Jacobsen: What have been some noteworthy and controversial public statements, events, and groups in Louisville University and its surrounding community?

Wilder: The governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, is a very staunch Christian who recently promoted “Bring Your Bible to School Day.” The governor also mentioned before that in order to stop crime in Louisville people should pray together in the streets.

Jacobsen: What was the reason for founding Louisville University Secular Student Alliance?

Wilder: I was tired of all the church groups on campus running the show. Every time a large event was going on it would be supported by the University of Louisville directly or one of the many church organizations. I want people to have a place to have fun without god being involved.

Jacobsen: How did Louisville University Secular Student Alliance develop over time?

Wilder: It was slow honestly. I spent a lot of my time filling out paperwork and attending meetings trying to get SSA recognized on campus and when it finally was recognized, I was so burnt out because I spent months getting to this point. Now we are growing so fast and a lot of other students are emailing me about getting involved, it keeps me hopeful for the future of the club.

Jacobsen: How have non-secular forces and groups pushed back against the development and inclusion of Louisville University Secular Student Alliance in the ordinary community life?

Wilder: I have heard stories about event posters being ripped down by theists on campus. Thankfully that doesn’t happen anymore, but other organizations are wary to work with us because atheists aren’t respected by other groups.

Jacobsen: What have been some successful campaigns or collaborations with faculty advisors or others through the Louisville University Secular Student Alliance on secular issues on institution grounds?

Wilder: SSA has gotten speakers and debates organized on campus. We are always looking to interact with other groups and discuss our differences, but they don’t feel the same. So we make sure we protest churches whenever they are spewing hate around campus and let others know what they are doing is not okay.

Jacobsen: What were the demographics of the Louisville University Secular Student Alliance?

Wilder: Very diverse. Black and white students alike, but we are more diverse from our backgrounds. Lots of ex-Christians and Muslims. We are also very young, so we’ll be around on campus for the years to come.

Jacobsen: What have been some notable successes for the secular movements and communities on the Louisville University campus and in the surrounding area?

Wilder: The biggest success I believe is building a community for atheists. Although people will accept atheism, most Christians I’ve interacted with are not content with it. There are always students on campus that feel like it’s their mission to “show us the light” or something and SSA has facilitated a welcoming community to escape the madness surrounding us.

Jacobsen: How can secular communities and individuals build on them?

Wilder: Getting together and getting vocal. The reason religious communities are so popular is because they are always loud, they are relentless with their marketing, I think atheists could learn some things from them.

Jacobsen: How should young people become more deeply involved in the secular movements around the United States on the campuses?

Wilder: Honestly, speaking up. Telling people that atheists do exist and representing atheism as a regular citizen to get rid of the villainization that is so prevalent. Find a group that exists and get out to visit them. Being loud is the key. I know a lot of atheists that are closeted atheists and will not willing to speak out about the dangers of religion. I tell them to speak out because there are ten others that will face much harsher consequences if they do.

Jacobsen: What are some cautionary notes for them?

Wilder: Not everyone is going to be okay with you being an atheist. There are people that may not want to associate with you anymore, especially family for a lot of us. Make sure your messaging is clear and isn’t patronizing to theists or they’ll only resent you.

Jacobsen: What can build bridges between secular and religious groups?

Wilder: Dialogue. Make sure you invite people to ask questions about atheism and don’t be afraid to ask questions yourself. Letting religious groups know that you’re also a human that wants the best of the people around could go a long way. Be prepared for a lot of bad questions though, I cannot tell you how many times I was simply asked why I am an atheist.

Jacobsen: How can people learn from the existence of the Louisville University Secular Student Alliance at the time?

Wilder: Follow our account on twitter @SSA_UofL where we give updates on meetings and events!

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

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

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