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Secular club approved: After multiple proposals, college recognizes new group

The Secular Student Community is now an officially recognized Concordia student organization.

“The group is inclusive and not just meant for secular folks,” senior religion and biology major Kristi Del Vecchio, the group’s publicist, said. “We hope to be a support system, but also (want to talk) about what it means to live a good secular life.”

On April 2, six months after the group’s proposal, executive members received an email from Natalie Rinehart, assistant director of Student Service and Leadership, announcing the committee’s approval.

“We were worried at first,” said sophomore Taylor Tielke, a political science and global studies major, who is the group’s president.

Members of the group had heard rumors saying their proposal had been rejected and others saying their proposal had been accepted, Tielke said. The group wasn’t sure what to believe.

The proposal was submitted in October of last year, only a couple of months after Eboo Patel spoke on campus about the importance of interfaith dialogue and leadership.

Recent graduate Andreas Rekdal, a founding member of the Secular Student Community who graduated in December, thought it was a good decision to submit a proposal following Patel’s speech, Del Vecchio said.

“Eboo had a very powerful message of creating a campus of inclusion,” Del Vecchio said.

The group submitted a proposal because they believed their official recognition would help the campus put Patel’s words into action.

Sue Oatey, vice president and dean of Student Affairs, said the process of approval took longer than usual.

Part of this reason was committees were working to understand the difference between the current proposal and past proposals for a recognized secular club, Oatey said.

A group of students submitted a proposal in 2009 to form a group called Secular Students of Concordia. The proposal was rejected because it didn’t coincide with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and College Standards, according to an article posted in The Huffington Post on April 8.

In January 2011, a redrafted constitution was sent in for reapplication. It was rejected.

“Because of history, we wanted to be sure to clarify the differences between the past and present group,” Oatey said. “We wanted to make sure…that there weren’t lingering questions because (people) didn’t understand what the purpose or intent of the (new) group was.”

The Secular Club Community was proposed to create a place of belonging for nonreligious students and to foster dialogue regarding secular values as well as to advocate for seculars’ inclusion in Concordia’s community.

The waiting period before their proposal was accepted was full of “white noise,” Tielke said, because the group wasn’t informed about the direction of the application process.

Communication with the executive members was minimal, Del Vecchio said. The discussion took place predominantly within the faculty and administration.

Now that the group is officially recognized, they have access to Student Activity Fee money and rights to publicize with campus publicity spaces, among other advantages.

“The length of the time it took was both frustrating (and) encouraging, because the institution was taking the time to have this critical conversation about what it means to include nonreligious voices at a Lutheran institution,” Del Vecchio said. “I know it’s not an easy conversation to have.”

Richard Gilmore, professor of philosophy, contributed to the creation of the secular club, as well as Tielke, Del Vecchio, Rekdal, Brittany Widseth, Emma Connell, Evan Marsolek, Riah Roe, Courtney Glasner-White, Jacob Amos and Charlie Tirey.

Additional executive members include Connell, vice-president, and Widseth, secretary and treasurer.

For more information about the club, contact Taylor Tielke.

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