Dalton McCart is the President of the Missouri State University-Springfield Secular Student Alliance. Here we talk about his story and work on secular activism.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is family background, e.g., geography, culture, language, and religion or lack thereof?
Dalton McCart: My family background is from the American South/Midwest. I grew up in Southern Missouri to a white English speaking family who at large was rather poor. The main religious influences in my life were Pentecostal, Baptist, Lutheran, and one Wiccan grandmother.
Jacobsen: How did this influence personal background?
McCart: Growing up, my immediate family wasn’t very religious, but my extended family was severely so. I tried to become a better Christian in my youth which put me at odds with a lot of my personal beliefs and eventually I left it. This lead to a lot of hostility towards me and my parents, and ultimately the person I am is a direct result of the negative treatment I was given by the people who claimed to be loving and tolerant.
Jacobsen: When did secularism and freethought become more of a philosophical stance for you?
McCart: Early in my teens I experimented with various religious practices to see if something fit for me. After about 2 years, I came out explicitly as an atheist and since then secularism and humanism have been my guiding principle.
Jacobsen: Following from the previous question, did this change the characteristics and interactions with friends and family?
McCart: This changed my entire social and familial dynamic. I lost contact with the majority of my family and a good amount of my friends who rejected me for not following their beliefs. I learned to be more careful about who I let into my life, and spent a long time being angry and closed off because of this treatment.
Jacobsen: How is the secular and freethought community on the Missouri State University-Springfield campus?
McCart: We are still in the bible belt, that aside MSU as an organization has been very understanding and welcoming to our group and like-minded students. The student culture allows us to express ourselves without too much push back. The only other point that I have to say is that we are the only organization on our campus focused on secularism in schools and communities among the probably 30+ religious organizations.
Jacobsen: What are demographics and targeted objectives of the Missouri State University-Springfield Secular Student Alliance? Why those goals?
McCart: Our primary goal is to provide a community for secular students. We strive to give students a place to freely express themselves and engage in discourse on subjects of secularism to help work through their own stories. We are the family that many of us lost on our journey. Secondly, we focus on activism. We try to be involved in local and state communities and politics to help create a better society so that future secular people don’t go through the same struggle we have.
Jacobsen: Missouri State University-Springfield Secular Student Alliance won the December 2015 – “Outstanding Activism” from the Secular Student Alliance. What does this mean for the Missouri State University-Springfield Secular Student Alliance?
McCart: The award is an honoured acknowledgement from our parent organization. They support us incredibly well and we attempt to honour them for doing so. This award tells us that we are making an impact in the lives of students and community members which is what SSA wants us to be doing.
Jacobsen: As the President, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position?
McCart: The job descriptions for our organization tend to get blurred. We help each other out with duties as needed. Ultimately my job as President is to inspire and guide my students. I look at this position as the position of leadership that it is, which means my main goal is to take care of the people in our community, whether or not they are members, and to act in a way that represents the good people they are. My day to day duties are as mundane as any officers. I handle a majority of the planning and execution of all of our meetings and events and most of the networking we do on and off-campus, but I receive tremendous help from my team of dedicated officers and even regular members.
Jacobsen: What are the ways in which people can become involved with the Missouri State University-Springfield Secular Student Alliance? How can other groups or organizations support and bolster the capacities of the Missouri State University-Springfield Secular Student Alliance?
McCart: Anyone who is interested can feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on our Facebook page facebook.com/msufreethought. We are open to membership from students and community members alike.
Jacobsen: What are the controversies involving issues for secularists and humanists on campus and the surrounding area? How does this influence the discussions and activities of the group?
McCart: The main controversies we deal with on campus is the continued struggle to increase awareness about secular students and our values. Trying to convince a majority religion in an area that the people they were told from childhood are evil are not is a struggle. We do receive pushback for some of what we do, but I believe most of that comes from individuals not campus groups. In the surrounding area it is a constant battle to keep religious founded legislation from taking hold. Missouri has terrible laws allowing the discrimination of lgtbq+ individuals and women’s bodily rights which are a huge focus for us.
Jacobsen: What are the upcoming activities for the group? What do you see as the important things for the future of the organization, including passing the torch to the next leadership?
McCart: This semester we are co-sponsoring a debate between a Ph.D. in theology Dr. Kirschner and Dan Barker from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, bringing in Dr. Marty Klein to give a talk on sex and sexuality, and hosting a screening of Hail Satan? With the local Satanic Temple. These events will be listed on our Facebook page, and are free and open to the public.
Jacobsen: Who have been crucial mentors and supports for the organization?
McCart: In the time I have been here 2 names come to mind. Damon Bassett, our faculty adviser, and Dr. Suzanne Walker-Pacheco, a professor of anthropology have been instrumental in supporting us and helping us get involved with connections outside of campus and on-campus alike.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
McCart: I just want to emphasize that students are the future of this nation, and we need to be open and encouraging to all students to express themselves healthily so that when this generation starts to replace the politicians in office now they can help reinforce a better society for the generations to follow. Secularism isn’t about the abolishing of religion, but instead enforcing religious freedom for all which is often skewed to look like taking down the religious majority. This is only because the religious majority tends to legislate against religious freedom, but instead toward religious exclusion and the rise of their own agenda.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dalton.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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 Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.