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Meet the AOU board members


 Hello everyone! My name is Jessica Garrison. I have currently lived in Utah for four years, and I lived near Seattle, Washington, for several years before that. I am currently working on a degree in Anthropology with a minor in Religious Studies from Arizona State University, and I hope to graduate next year and then begin the hunt for a master's program. My goal is to have a career in mental health counseling, specializing in helping those who are transitioning out of religion, as well as to further studies into Religious Trauma Syndrome. My husband Steve and I have been together for almost four years, and we tied the knot at the courthouse on Valentine's Day of last year. We have been waiting all this time for COVID restrictions to lift and we are finally having our official ceremony and reception coming up in October. Right now our little family is just us two and our sweet dog Peanut, but we have plans to start trying for our first baby next year.

     I am very excited about the Atheists of Utah group, and it means a lot to me to see it continue. Since Steve and I are making plans to expand our family next year, it is more important than ever to me that we put down roots in a healthy, non-religious community to raise our children in. I would be delighted to take on some responsibility for that community by becoming a board member and serving in any role necessary. I have extensive experience in leadership, such as being a SCUBA instructor, teaching violin through the Weber State strings program, coaching high school speech and debate clubs in Seattle, and being a supervisor at Starbucks. I believe that my diverse leadership background has equipped me for any role required of me as a board member. 

     I am also very passionate about this group due to my religious upbringing. I was raised in the Baptist church, but the rules I was raised under were more similar to zealous Mormonism or Jehovah's Witnesses. I was raised with very limited television and no Internet access, and taught strict gender roles; my siblings and I were homeschooled for all thirteen years of grade school and had limited and monitored social interactions throughout. I faced psychological, verbal, and physical abuse throughout my teen years as I began to have doubts about my personal faith and became curious about world culture, friendships with other kids my age, social media, sex, and feminism. I was 20 years old when I was finally able to escape from my parents' house (partially because I was extremely sheltered and did not realize I was legally free at 18), and have spent the last four years exploring the religion I left behind and what I believe now from an educated perspective. I am a firm believer in the concept of Atheism 2.0, which is the idea that religion is so appealing and entrapping because it meets so many of our basic human needs, like community approval, a reason for suffering and pain, a higher purpose for our life, explanations about death, connection with a tribe, and organized rituals and holidays just to name a few. I believe that we don't need religion to have all those things, but we need to make a conscious effort to organize ourselves as atheists and seek to meet those same needs on our own. It's a difficult task since there is not 10,000+ years of tradition and ritual for us to follow to find fulfillment, but it is certainly a frontier worth pioneering, and one I would love to explore in this group.

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