Tag Archives: Secular Student Alliance

Conferences

Center for Inquiry: CFI Student Leadership Conference 2012!

Last weekend, I attended the 2012 CFI Student Leadership Conference in Buffalo, New York with my fellow Secular Student Alliance intern, Ellen Lundgren.

I want to tell you about the talks themselves, but even more so, I want you to understand why it’s so important for student leaders to attend these conferences.

It’s about a 6-hour drive from Columbus, so we left right after work last Wednesday, and listened to lots of Fiona Apple’s newest album along the way.

The two CFI summer interns (one of whom, Tony Lakey, is actually also the president of my student group back in Missouri) were kind enough to let us stay with them the first night, and we had a lot of fun playing chess and eating veggie chik’n nuggets.

Over the following three days, I reconnected with some great people I had not seen in person since the conference last year, and others that I saw at the SSA conference last summer as well. These are some of the brightest people I have ever known, and some of the best critical thinkers. The best part is, they are also creative rule-breakers when it comes to thinking. This is especially relevant for the workshops, when we do brainstorming activities.

Late-night chess with Tony Lakey

If you’ve never been to Niagara Falls, it’s astonishing. There is something about very large things that makes you feel—well, small. It changes your perspective to look at something like that. Part of me says, “It’s water & rocks… okay…” But when you realize how quickly those water & rocks could kill you—not to anthropomorphize, but without a pause or care, and that they have been going for about 11,000 years—it makes you feel very awed. A group of us went on Thursday afternoon while everyone was trickling in for the first talks on Thursday evening.

The first of us to Niagara Falls!
The view from the observation deck.

That night, there was a welcome toast, a presentation about what exactly CFI does by Lauren Becker, a talk about the past, present, and future of CFI by the wonderful Debbie Goddard, a panel about CFI’s history, and Jessica Ahlquist also gave her talk. You can see the full schedule here.

I’m actually not going to talk much more about the talks themselves. The videos will be online soon, as I understand it, and I’m going to leave that to other bloggers. I want you to understand what’s so important about actually attending these conferences in person.

The friends I have made by physically attending the CFI conferences last year (my first) and this year are some of the most important and close people in my life, even though for many of them, I have only seen them in person once or twice. If you have ever been on a retreat or to summer camp or anything like that, you know what I mean. Spending 84 hours straight without someone—sharing your meals, living with them, hanging out at night—is going to make you close. In fact, for the last night, many of us didn’t even bother sleeping, since our sleep schedules were so backwards by then. Half the fun of conferences is staying up half (or all) night, talking about your backgrounds, learning what other groups are doing, getting to know each other, but more just getting to that place of understanding that there are other atheists just like you. It may not feel like we’re the majority, and in many places, we’re not. But for our generation, roughly 1/3 of people say it is false that they never doubt the existence of a god. These figures are growing rapidly, and with a passion. It’s becoming harder and harder for young people to believe whatever their parents tell them, because young people are no longer being brought up in isolation from the rest of the world, thanks to things like Wikipedia, Reddit, Facebook, even blogs like this one.

I waited a year to come out of the closet as an atheist because I didn’t know anyone else who was openly an atheist. I was dumbstruck when I first met someone who had no problem saying the word. In her case, she was not an activist about it; she was more what I’d call an apatheist, or a pragmatic atheist. But that moment was life-changing for me: Knowing that it was possible to call oneself an atheist, without feeling ashamed, was inspiring.

And that is how I feel about attending conferences. An entire audience full of people who feel that way, learning how to run their student groups more efficiently and effectively, and getting to know each other. One of the people I’d consider among my best friends, Ellen (the founder of this blog), is someone whom I met at the CFI conference last year, for example. Her work with her group at Grand Valley State University has been inspiring to my group at Mizzou, as well. And now we are interning together for the Secular Student Alliance, which is a dream come true for both of us. The best part is, there are literally dozens of people I could have used as examples in this paragraph of great friends I have made, who are very dear to me. I felt so very lonely for so long as a closeted atheist, and it is a feeling I do not feel anymore. Maybe this is revealing of what a bad writer I am ;) but I can’t tell you in words how grateful of my circumstances I am to be freed of that. Life is better now!

If you are a student and an atheist, and you have never attended a student leadership conference, you simply MUST do so. Today (Sunday) is the last chance to register for the Secular Student Alliance annual leadership conference on July 6-8 in Columbus, OH. Please, please register! You will be so glad you attended, I can’t even tell you. And if that’s not enough for you, you can also attend Skepticon 5, the largest free conference ever, in Springfield, Missouri on November 9-11.

I’m just going to wrap this up with some more pictures from Buffalo, because I took a lot, and I think they can say it better than I can. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Jessica Ahlquist's birthday cake!
Far right: SASHA president Tony Lakey one of the panel discussions
Heathen books!
Debbie Goddard serenades us in the evening
Atheist students learn how to be atheist student leaders
Your author with the founder of Skeptic Freethought, Ellen Lundgren
L-R: Aaron Underwood (SASHA Director of Events), Damon Fowler, Tony Lakey (SASHA President), Ellen Lundgren, and I (taking photo) stayed up all night to watch the sunrise.

And last but not least, one of my favorite photos from the weekend…

Light painting "CFI" with glow-sticks!

See you at the SSA conference next weekend, and at CFI next year!

 

Blogathon

Smart Giving: Why You Should Donate To The Secular Student Alliance

Disclosure: I’m an intern at the Secular Student Alliance this summer. The opinions below are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the SSA.

Hello, Dave here.

I’m going to come straight out and say it. You should donate to the Secular Student Alliance. Right now. I’m serious. Get out your wallet and set it on the table beside you. Have a credit card? Get it out. Have a bill in your wallet? Get it out. We’re going to do something here with it in a second.

I want you to take your credit card out of your wallet and look at it (or, if you have cash, take it out and look at it).

I want you to think of all the things you’ve bought in the last week.

Gasoline? Coffee? Gum? Cigarettes? Soda? Beer? Went out to eat?

I just got back from the store. Here’s a list of things I’ve bought in the past two hours:

– Two bottles of wine: $30 (not on receipt because I got them at a different store)
– A bath sheet: $20
– A corkscrew: $10
– A fancy can opener: $18
– A box of trash bags: $8
– A big jar of peanut butter: $7
– Two jars of jam: $5
– A package of hangers:  $5
– Some mouthwash: $5
– A little candle with a holder: $4

All of this together is over $100. Now, if I were to ask myself, which is more important to me? Wine? A fancy can opener? or the Secular Student Alliance?

Every time, without fail, I would choose the SSA.

Except that I *didn’t* choose the SSA; I chose the fancy can opener. I guess that’s not “without fail.”

I want you to look at your credit card, or the cash you got out, and ask yourself: “What is the highest and best use of this money?”

The Secular Student Alliance is doing the most important work I have seen in the world. I am not just saying this. I’m studying economics & anthropology at Mizzou, and I’m interested in non-profit efficiency and smart giving. I care about a lot of causes. I care about feminism, and poverty alleviation, and reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights, and vegetarianism & animal welfare. But I chose to work with the SSA because I think this is the most important cause, and the most urgent cause.

We are empowering students toward a secular future. A better future. A science-fiction future with flying cars and weekend trips to the moon and people living to their 200th birthday. Prosperous countries trading instead of fighting. When we focus our attention on being good critical thinkers, we solve problems. Like the bumper sticker says, “Two hands working accomplish more than 1,000 clasped in prayer.” The SSA works with students because students are our best hope for the future.

I want you to read this post by my boss, Lyz Liddell. It’s called “The Unstoppable Secular Students.” I mentioned “smart giving” above. That means using critical thinking when deciding where to donate. It means asking questions and making sure your money is being put not just to good use, but the best use.

The problem with this, from a non-profit’s perspective, is that when people think critically about donating, they tend to donate less. Emotions can take over people’s donation behavior and when people aren’t asking questions, it’s easy to get them to donate. I want you to do the opposite of what most people do. I want you to think critically, realize that the SSA is the doing the best work you could ask of a non-profit, and donate more. I want you to donate as much as you possibly can. I want you to do this because I have done my homework, and I know how important this is and how good of a job the SSA is doing. I know how understaffed the SSA is and how much its people care. And most importantly, I know that they are getting stuff DONE, I know how much they need every dollar you can spare to keep doing it.

Smart giving doesn’t mean giving less. It means choosing a great, efficient, and productive charity, and giving all that you can. If you care about secular issues, the SSA is what you’re looking for.

What are you going to buy tomorrow that you don’t really need? Don’t do it. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance today instead. We can make this happen with your help.

So, your wallet that is sitting out. Let’s do this. We can do it together. The $100 I spent today on crap I don’t need? I’m officially pledging another $100 to the SSA, right here, right now. And I want you to do the same. If $20 is all you can manage, donate $20. And because of Jeff Hawkins & Janet Strauss’s matching $250,000 donation offer, your $20 magically multiples into $40. Do it. Donate, because the SSA is important, and that’s worth caring about.

– Dave

Ellen says:

Remember, here are some ways to pledge:

1.  Pledge per word (.01¢ per word is suggested).

2.  Pledge per post (24 throughout the day).

3.  Pledge per thing you’ve learned.  If a post teaches you something new, you donate your pledge amount.

4.  Bid to torture. Have a crafty challenge for me? Something new to make into crochet? Some sick geometric origami? Whatever you do, don’t make me go outside and do… things… like… …exercise. I will hate you. But if you bid enough, I might do it.

5. And always bid for crochet Cthulhu’s and FSM’s! They will be available throughout the week, and any that are not auctioned will be for sale near the end.

So if you need any more reasons to donate, stick around. I’m here all day.

This is post 19/24 of Ellen’s Blogathon in support of the Secular Student Alliance. Donate here!