Having launched the Pagan Student Union in February of this year, religious studies majors Austin Weaver and Kimmy Woodworth have been striving to create a safe space for students to share their beliefs and learn about those of others.
“Our mission statement is to promote religious tolerance in Topeka and at Washburn,” said Woodworth. “A lot of it is about education and providing a safe space for students.”
Both Weaver and Woodworth came together to create this safe space for those facing discrimination and lack of understanding.
“As a religious minority…I hate to compare it to problems that other minorities have, but there is not a big tolerance for people who don’t identify with a normal religion,” said Weaver.
Woodworth shared that she has faced discrimination since the first posters went up for the club.
Defining Paganism is a somewhat difficult task, but Woodworth sees this as an opportunity rather than a flaw.
“It’s a really special family of religions,” said Woodworth, “because there’s not a doctrine, there’s not really rules and people get really hung up on how to be the right version of their religion, and it doesn’t need to be that way.”
She also shares the difficulties of defining Paganism for the group.
“That’s what makes running the group so tricky,” she said, “because there’s a bunch of people who pick and choose from a bunch of different other faiths, and people blend elements of Paganism into the religions they grew up with. It’s tricky to define religion at all, let alone a kind of religion that is like almost everything.”
As far as their goals and hopes for the club, both Weaver and Woodworth aspire to make the club ultimately inclusive and educational. Where they feel the Topeka community is lacking in tolerance, they wish to provide that tolerance for members.
“If you would like to explore your options, we would provide you a safer space to do so,” said Weaver, “but if you also feel like you don’t want to believe anything, then that’s your personal choice. We would support you either way.”
Woodworth closes by emphasizing how important the aspect of growth is to the experience offered by the Pagan Student Union.
“We’re about growth,” Woodworth said. “Not necessarily finding hard and fast what you believe in, but seeing if maybe something will stick. I like to learn from the people in our group and I hope they like to learn from me. We’re on this quest for the people who want to find their truth and people that want to be more involved. We’re both very busy people, and this is a top priority. Through the discrimination and ignorance…if we help one pagan student on campus feel empowered and more safe, then it is all worth it.”
The Pagan Student Union meets on Tuesdays from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Myriad room of the LLC. Keep an eye out for their upcoming pagan showcase event coming late October.
Edited by Jessica Galvin, Jackson Woods, Adam White