Originally organized by a small group of students early this year, AHA! has grown into an organization of over sixty members in less than a week of campaigning. Currently under review to become an officially-recognized ASUO student organization, AHA! was created in order to support the growing number of atheists and nonreligious students on the University of Oregon campus.
"We formed AHA! with many goals in mind, but most importantly, we want to serve as a support system for campus atheists, agnostics, and religious skeptics. We want people to know that atheism isn't something to hide--we want to make it something that people are proud of, something that isn't shunned," says Lucy Gubbins, one of the founders of the group.
According to a 2006 University of Minnesota study, atheists are the least trusted minority group in the United States. A 2007 Gallup poll recorded that only 45% of those surveyed would vote for a qualified atheist political candidate; this score was lower than that of an otherwise qualified homosexual candidate, and a full 10% lower than the scores women, blacks, Jews, or Mormons received. No minority scored lower than atheists.
Despite the societal stigma attached to atheism, 25% of Americans between the age of 18 and 29 identify with no religion, doubling since 1986, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The University of Oregon does not currently recognize any student organization geared toward nonreligious students.
"Being the first group of its kind, we expected that it would be difficult to organize around something that people commonly misunderstand," another founding member, Jeff Kline, says, "but these are just the kind of challenges that we look forward to and that we find necessary in order for atheists to get the recognition they deserve."
The group's first meeting will focus on orienting new members to the organization's vision and future goals, and garnering input and ideas. AHA! is also hoping to begin organizing a week-long celebration for the National Day of Reason, in early May.