Nadya Dutchin joined the American Humanist Association (AHA) as the organization’s new Executive Director in December 2021. AHA Deputy Director and Humanist magazine editor Nicole Carr conducted this interview with her during her first week on staff.
Dutchin comes to the AHA with more than 10 years of community engagement, strategic partnership, youth program development, multi-method fundraising, and change management experience. Previously, she was the Co-Executive Director of Power Shift Network, and spent seven years at Be The Match Registry. She is the Board President of The Common Good Generation and the Interim President of Our Climate.
Nicole Carr: Welcome to the AHA! I know our members are excited to learn more about you. Tell us a little bit about the background and experience that you are bringing to your role as Executive Director.
Nadya Dutchin: Thank you so much! I’m so happy about joining the AHA and working with our amazing staff to raise the profile of the AHA and humanism with a new generation of future leaders. One of my greatest strengths is building deep connections with people and I’ve worked for years to build powerful, strategic partnerships to help the organizations that I’ve worked with meet or exceed their goals. I have more than a decade of fundraising and program development experience that I know will help me create a long-term, detailed vision for the AHA as we dig deeper into the Strategic Plan that the board put in place last year. Over the years, one role that has been important to me is that of an intermediary, because I’m able to use my emotional intelligence to understand all sides of a complex situation. I’m looking forward to leveraging this skill to help me understand the inner workings and drivers of AHA’s membership, local groups, adjunct organizations, our staff, board and volunteers to balance all the important priorities that make up the work and community-building that is so important to the future of the AHA.
Carr: When did you first discover humanism? Have you been involved in humanist/nontheist groups prior to joining the staff at AHA?
Dutchin: The first time I ever heard of humanism was a few years ago as I was leaving to go to work and I heard a radio advertisement for a local humanist group and thought, “Oh, that sounds like me!” However, I never really looked further into becoming connected to the humanist movement because I was a new parent and my time was at a premium, but it brought me a sense of comfort to know that there are groups of compassionate, kind, free-thinking people like me that I could connect with whenever I was ready.
About two years ago, I joined two Facebook groups specifically for Black Atheists and Agnostics and it’s been a wonderful point of connection for discussions about topics that sit at the intersection of race, interpersonal relationships, culture, socioeconomics, and nontheism. I really appreciate sitting in community with other Black nonbelievers from across the African diaspora and learn about the challenges and successes other members have across the globe. A few weeks ago, as I was coming to the close of my AHA interview process, someone asked in one of these groups where they could find a community of nontheists with which to gather. I was excited to hear various members state that, “The humanists are the way to go.” It made me so proud to know that I could potentially lead an organization that was known and valued by people I love, respect, and interact with on a daily basis.
Carr: The AHA’s current strategic plan brings a new focus to the organization’s work on social justice issues, while maintaining our historic emphasis on separation of church and state issues, science and reason. How do you see those two parts of our mission working together?
Dutchin: These ideas and issues aren’t mutually exclusive at all! I see them all as necessary parts of the sustainable future that we’re trying to build today. We cannot conquer the systemic and institutionalized oppressions that social justice efforts work to dismantle without science and reason informing our solutions-based approach. AHA legal and policy work provides protections for humanists and by expanding some aspects of our policy work, we can help to ensure that social justice gains are codified and properly funded in federal policy budgets. As I wrote in my Commentary for this magazine, “Every single issue within the social justice framework is a humanist issue. Reproductive justice, disability justice, language justice, racial justice, economic justice, access to healthcare, housing and food insecurity, voting rights, climate, and environmental justice are all humanist issues.” As humanists, we care about the people in our communities, their ability to thrive, and their overall well-being. Social justice issues are inherently humanist issues.
Carr: Give our readers an idea of your priorities for the AHA in your first six months as Executive Director. What do you want to work on first?
Dutchin: My immediate priorities for the AHA are twofold: internal and external. Internally, I plan to create a plan to implement the recommendations of our recent Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) audit to ensure that my colleagues and all the people that work with us are properly compensated and meaningfully supported. We cannot in good conscience ask our current and future members to dig into social justice work unless our organization is internally providing a joyful and equitable place to work. Externally, I will work to identify social justice strategic partners and potential funders (foundation and individuals) to help us focus on the social justice issues that the AHA and our members will tackle and locate the funding to meaningfully support that work at the national, local, and partner level. I also want to strengthen our chapter network—providing new tools and connections for our local groups to strengthen community-building. Lastly, we’ll reach out to the diverse communities of young people who are the fastest-growing part of the Nones that you hear so much about. All of these things are prominently featuered in the AHA’s Strategic Plans and are priorities established by our board of directors.
Carr: You have an extensive background in climate justice, which is an issue that many of our members and supporters care deeply about. How do you see the AHA getting more involved in that area?
Dutchin: I see the AHA supporting climate and environmental justice work by being strong allies to the youth, Black people and other people of color, and Indigenous-led organizations that do so much of the work in this space, so that our members can learn more about the multifaceted approach young people take to mitigating the climate crisis and environmental issues. As AHA members, chapters, and adjunct organizations learn more about the climate and environmental work happening in their local area, we should be prominent allies to these movements and show up to support and resource those organizations. The AHA and our members are passionate about preserving the Earth and ensuring that our communities and people are healthy and able to thrive. We know that mitigating the climate crisis cannot wait and it is a threat multiplier for marginalized communities and society as a whole. The well-connected and educated base of the AHA can open doors for these young organizations and increase visibility for their actions.
Carr: What are you looking forward to most about working at the AHA?
Dutchin: I am most looking forward to working with our current membership to create a process of legacy-building where we gather all of the historical institutional knowledge about the humanist movement from our members, donors, chapters and adjuncts to act as a solid foundation upon which we can build a more expansive and inclusive membership base. The fact that we have so many members and groups who have been a part of the humanist movement for four or five decades (if not more) is mind-blowing! The next generation of humanists and AHA members can learn so much about the history of humanism in the U.S. and self-determine how they’d like to shape the face of the humanist movement of the future. Intergenerational knowledge-sharing is how we learn about where we’ve been, how we got to the current moment, and where we can go if we are open-minded enough to learn from each other. It’s thrilling to think about the powerful movement we can build together.