Support for college Pagans in Texas

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SAN MARCOS, Texas –Talk about infrastructure in the Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities usually focuses on ideas like temples, property ownership, and charitable foundations, but what might be a bigger idea is coalescing in Texas. The Texas Alliance of Pagan Students, or TAPS, is intended to be a “parent” organization for college Pagan clubs throughout the state. It’s hoped that such a group can provide support and guidance to members of local student Pagan clubs, which by their nature have a high turnover in membership each year.

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University of Texas Clock Tower [Photo Credit: Phil Roeder / Flickr]

Laura Jones, adviser for the Pagan Student Fellowship (PSF) of Texas State University in San Marcos, explained how TAPS came to be.

The previous adviser [of PSF] was a lovely woman who agreed to “advise” the organization in order for it to be an official university student organization, and she was very proud of them, but also had very little time to give them. I took over as adviser, and noticed a few things rather quickly: one, there is no devoted parent organization for Pagan student groups, and two, there is no discernible consistency with how Pagan student organizations are structured.

When she was an undergraduate, Jones had been active in her residence hall association, and through that attended conferences sponsored through parent organizations for those efforts. She recognized that some kind of umbrella group for student Pagan organizations would be able to provide the sort of upper-level support that university employees unfamiliar with Paganism could not. Jones had a friend attending the nearby University of Texas at Austin, and they had success putting together cross-organizational events.

They took the idea one step further in late 2014, organizing a meetup at during the Samhain sponsored by the Council of Magickal Arts. Enough interested people from different schools attended.  As a result, TAPS was created under the auspices of CMA, functioning as a society within the council.

That turned out to be just a short-term intermediary step. TAPS was registered as an independent business after only meeting twice under the CMA umbrella. Founders are now “working on gathering our documentation and making all the hard decisions about how this organization will be structured and run,” Jones said.

CMA support has been instrumental in setting up TAPS, Jones said, but “we also do not want membership in CMA to be requisite for membership in TAPS.” The group’s first independent meeting was at Spirit Haven Ranch, owned by CMA, and all of the founders of TAPS have long been members of that council. Jones said that the “informal ties run deep” between the two groups. However, TAPS’ focus will be on college students, who may or may not desire to join CMA.

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The main role Jones sees TAPS playing in the lives of Pagan students is in providing networking opportunities and the ability to avoid having to reinvent the wheel from time to time. She described the benefits of participation as including “workshop outlines, constitution guidelines, resume-building notes, and other potentially useful resources which can be shared by members,” as well as “individual support for anyone wishing to start a new organization from our combined over 30 years experience with student groups.”

Support for starting and continuing Pagan student groups could help them last longer, Jones believes. While researching, she and others “discovered that there seemed to be a large falling out of most of the Pagan student organizations across the country in 2012. That was the last time many of their web pages or Facebook pages were updated. We’d love to help keep that from happening. Students need support, and Pagan students need support now more than even a few years ago.”

When they were able to interview members of those groups, it became apparent that many of the clubs simply stopped functioning for a variety of reasons.

I feel that having TAPS in their corner will help organizations keep from disbanding entirely, but even if they do, we would be able to provide some support for anyone wishing to rekindle the organization. We can also use our combined experiences with student organizations to help the organizations avoid the kinds of things that led to the disbandment of some of the orgs whose former members we were able to reach, and help with the struggles that threaten our organizations regularly now.

There’s a lot left to do to make TAPS as vibrant as Jones and others hopes it will become. Presently its organizers think it would be best structured as a unincorporated non-profit association; Jones said they are leaning toward a five-member board of directors, a council with a representative of each club, and a general membership. “This is . . . still in flux, and nothing is set in stone yet,” she said.

To get the word out, “We are working on a comprehensive marketing strategy that goes beyond local coffee shops and Pagan stores that would help get the word out at all college campuses across the state, which could help groups form that don’t exist yet, and get groups involved that are maybe more marginalized or isolated. We are planning on having a representative at all the Pagan Pride days we can find in Texas over the next year or so.”

[Photo Credit: University of Saskatchewan/Flickr]

[Photo Credit: University of Saskatchewan/Flickr]

Thus far, three student groups are affiliated with TAPS. “The exact expectations of the various members of involved groups are still undecided,” Jones said. “It would be ideal for each group to send at least one delegate to our conference, and to be involved in the council of officers.” The details of that conference have not yet been finalized, but is being planned to take place in February.

TAPS, until this point, has been a labor of love and personal cash. Jones would like to see that change, as she explained: “We have no financial support coming from any outside entity: only the three board members, and the sponsorship of CMA to allow us a venue for our retreat/conference at no cost. Financial support from the general Pagan community would be much appreciated. Anyone who has ever benefited from a Pagan student organization, or wishes they’d had a Pagan student organization to help them find inclusion in a college group; anyone who understands the feeling of belonging, or what it’s like to not belong: those are the people I hope would consider supporting our cause. Otherwise, we’ll be completely self-funded.”