Freethinkers foster dialogue, desire to create community
A new club on campus is seeking to create a conversation space for non-religious students.
Founded by juniors Garrett Schempp, Jonathan Heiberger and John Nelson, Augustana Open Minds provides an interactive space for students to discuss with peers their religious beliefs, lack thereof or something in-between.
“It’s basically a forum for students that are interested to come and speak about their ideas and not feel threatened or judged,” Heiberger said. “A place where ideas can be talked about that maybe people don’t feel comfortable talking about with everybody on campus. It’s just a place specifically for that.”
The inspiration for the club came from Schempp’s experience with religious groups in high school. Though Schempp said he valued how religious groups gave students a place where they could talk about their shared interest while giving back to the community through service, he didn’t feel comfortable partaking in their activities because he wasn’t religious. Once in college, he decided it was time to give students like him the chance to have a community of their own.
The group’s faculty adviser, Corey Kopp, said he thinks the group is a welcome addition to campus.
“I think it’s clear that the community we have here is more welcoming and open to that conversation than we’ve ever been,” he said.
The club began holding unofficial meetings last spring, with six recurring members.
“Last semester I was trying to get a smaller group of people that were sympathetic to this idea of open minds and free thinkers,” Schempp said. “I was trying to build a foundation.”
The group became officially sanctioned by the Augustana Student Association at ASA’s first meeting of the year.
At their first meeting, 10 members from different majors and religious backgrounds participated.
“I enjoyed the meeting,” freshman Seth Meyers said. “It was nice to see the backgrounds and experiences of the other members that led them to become non-religious.”
During bi-weekly meetings, the group plans to discuss books, movies and articles, as well as hold debates about topics that members suggest.
For Kopp, Augustana Open Minds is about much more than adding to the university’s growing list of campus organizations.
“Too often I think the atheist movement is about tearing things down,” Kopp said, “but there’s an expectation among students, and these three guys are an example of that, where they’re not interested in telling people what they believe is wrong. Instead, they’re interested in learning from each other so we can all better understand what those differences might be.”