Each week reporter Jeff Darge searches campus for a new club to join.
Known for its counter-demonstrations against preachers on ASU's Tempe campus and throughout the valley, the club Sun Devils Are Better Together wants students to realize the good that togetherness can create.
I met the group during one of its canvassing sessions to help out and to get a better understanding of all that they do for the University community.
When I arrived at the Memorial Union, the club was easy to spot. Students were standing in front of the stage outside of the MU, all wearing light blue shirts with the symbols of various religions. Several club members held signs to encourage strangers and friends alike to meet someone of a shared or differed faith of the sign-holder.
As I got closer to the group, I met religious studies senior Johnny Martin, the club's president and founder. Martin explained to the rest of the group that I would be canvassing with. The club was more than happy to accept me into its group, which is to be expected of a group that preaches inclusion. I was handed a sign of my own and I joined the lineup of students who truly believe that we as a whole are "better together."
During the time that I stood with my sign and a smile while Michael Jackson's greatest hits roared from a speaker behind me, I was able to get to know members of the group in a well-rounded sense. I felt that Martin had a true passion and drive for what he was doing as a leader of the club. He came to ASU as what he describes as an anti-theist. During his freshman year, Martin took a class on world religions so he "could tell people why they are wrong." Instead, the class expanded his worldview and made him a spiritual person. In turn, it would be the impetus to Martin finding Islam and also founding the club.
The organization attracts many from lesser-certain religious backgrounds. Theater freshman Keena Huesby was raised as an evangelical Christian, but was encouraged to explore other religions. That is how she would find Wicca, a religion that focuses on Pagan tradition and witchcraft, including the performances of rituals. Those rituals are what led Huesby to the club. She was looking for a safe place to practice those rituals, and Sun Devils are Better Together was the obvious choice. When Huesby told me she identified as a "Wiccan Pagan witch," I admittedly had very little idea what that meant, but she was more than happy to explain the broader points of the faith.
Of course, any member of the group is happy to do this. Thoughtful, calm conversation is what the club strives toward.
While I stood with my sign, one person came up to me to ask me about my faith. It was a surreal moment. After all, I watched plenty of strangers walk up to members of the group and ask about their religions, but it never crossed my mind that I may have to talk about my beliefs. When he asked me what the term on my sign meant, I almost forgot what it meant myself. I was never one to talk about religion, much less my own. In the midst of my mumbling, I looked up and saw the eyes of a man truly interested about what I was saying. It made me feel validated in my beliefs, and I loved that that person now has a greater understanding of the world around him simply because he took five minutes out of his day to talk to strangers.
Even as an extrovert, before the one stranger approached me I felt as if I should run away. Like I said, I don't talk about my beliefs but in the end I felt that this space that the club provided for me was one that other students should explore.
Unfortunately, in the afternoon dedicated to the proliferation of understanding, one older man walked through the campus up to Huesby, pointed to her sign that read "meet a pagan," and said "I just want you to know that that is an ugly word."
Ironically, the insult completely justifies the need for the club. Sun Devils Are Better Together's goal is to, as Martin put it, "form relations despite fundamental disagreements."
Anyone interested in joining the club should email the group to join their mailing list at firstname.lastname@example.org or checking out their website at sundevilsarebettertogether.com to get meeting dates, times and locations.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow @jeffdarge on Twitter.