Meet the New AHA Staff Member: Stephanie Hansen

Welcome the Appignani Humanist Legal Center’s new Paralegal, Stephanie Hansen! What is your educational and work background?

Stephanie Hansen: I received my Bachelor’s degree from University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, double majoring in History and Political Science, with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. During college, I interned with my county’s District Attorney’s office, which began my career in law. After graduating, I moved away from my very white, conservative-leaning hometown to Madison, Wisconsin, and fell in love with the diverse city community. I have worked in a variety of legal fields including family and juvenile law, immigration, assisted reproductive technology, and life and estate planning. I am excited to explore Washington, DC, and begin this new chapter. How did you first learn about humanism?

Hansen: I didn’t explicitly learn about the term humanism until I read through the AHA website and felt the “That’s me!” reaction. Previously, I had assumed the atheist title, because I didn’t know there was another option that addressed all my values. Did you grow up in a traditional religious faith? How did it impact you?

Hansen: I grew up in a Catholic household, attended a private Catholic school until 5th grade, and completed catechism classes throughout high school. I always felt disconnected from the faith and confused by the practices and teachings fueled by fear. I completed the confirmation process only because my family thought my grandma would be upset if I didn’t. In college, I took a class on Buddhism and related more to its practices than my Catholic upbringing, but it still wasn’t a perfect fit. Ironically, my grandma gave me a Buddha statue after hearing me speak about my experience in the class and encouraged me to continue exploring my beliefs. I still feel somewhat awkward at family gatherings when they pray or observe some holidays, but I am privileged to have a very close and accepting family. What interested you most about working for the American Humanist Association?

Hansen: In my experience, expressing your personal beliefs in a work environment was taboo, especially when you feel you will be judged for not following the status quo. I’m excited to work with like-minded people to advocate for equality of nontheists, promote empathy, and aspire to live ethically. What book has influenced you the most?

Hansen: I am an avid reader so narrowing it down to only one book is tough, but one quote that has greatly impacted me is from Christopher Paolini’s Eldest. The main character asks for his teacher’s religious practices and is surprised to learn that he does not believe in the gods. The student then states that the world must be cold without something more, to which the teacher replies: “On the contrary, it is a better world. A place where we are responsible for our own actions, where we can be kind to one another because we want to and because it is the right thing to do, instead of being frightened into behaving by the threat of divine punishment…. It is far better to be taught to think critically and then be allowed to make your own decisions than to have someone else’s notions thrust upon you.” This passage was the first time my beliefs were put into words and they have stuck with me ever since. If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (living or dead), who would they be and why?

Hansen: Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite authors and activists; Hayao Miyazaki, a storyteller connoisseur, whose work contains themes of feminism, pacifism, and environmentalism; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who would bring her fiery spirit to the discussion.