The University of Wisconsin-Madison made state and national news last week after a student government committee granted an atheist organization the largest funding amount of a group of its type on any college campus in the country.
The Student Services Finance Committee approved over $67,000 in student segregated fee funding for the campus group Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics on Nov. 8, 2012, prompting coverage from multiple media outlets including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Christian Post.
AHA President Chris Calvey said the past week has been a “wild ride” and an overall “gratifying” experience.
The organization first became a registered student organization in 2005, created to fill a void due to the lack of organizations for non-religious students, according to Calvey.
AHA serves students through two programs, Faith Questioning, a peer-to-peer mentoring service for anyone struggling with faith, and Secular Support Groups, a group-based discussion of topics such as religion, science and philosophy.
Calvey said AHA plays an important role on campus as the only group offering support for non-religious students, some of which have told stories about parents threatening to disown them, kick them out or stop paying for their tuition upon finding out about their beliefs.
“It can be a very lonely experience to go through if you don’t know other atheists who have been through similar things and can provide you with some support.” Calvey said.
Calvey attributes the group’s recent increase in popularity to good organizing by AHA officers and a general increase in interest in atheism as the national movement grows.
Associated Students of Madison Press Office Director David Gardner said the student government has also been contacted by many media agencies.
Gardner said ASM continues to stress all SSFC decisions focus on the services a group provides to students and are made without taking a group’s viewpoint into account.
Calvey said although many comments on news articles have been “pretty nasty,” the group will ignore those who are upset about it.
“I think the SSFC kind of has our back on this and we meet all the criteria,” Calvey said. “You can’t please everyone.”