Godless Grad Student

news and reflections from an active atheist and disabled graduate student

Darwin Day (Pasta?) Dinner

with one comment

UPDATE:  An edited version of this post was published in the Secular Student Alliance’s eMpirical.  I absolutely *love* the picture they chose to accompany the story. 🙂

Friday, February 12th, 2010 was the 201st Anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin.  Commonly called ‘Darwin Day’, it is a great chance for our community to gather to celebrate humanity and science.

At George Mason University, Student Activities will support one meeting per year with food and this was our chance to take that resource and make a great impact.  So, I filled out the necessary paperwork for a pasta dinner, another leader in our group made arrangements for a speaker, and the Secular Student Alliance (GMU) planned to celebrate Darwin Day with what would have been a fabulous pasta dinner complemented with a terrific speaker.

The weather had different plans though.  Snowmageddon ’10 hit and our pasta extravaganza became 15 pizzas.

In the end, everything worked out.  Our speaker was still able to make it.  People ate, drank, and had a good time.  The event was a success – in so far we define “success” as having the people who did come enjoy the event.

Nevertheless, as President of the Secular Student Alliance (GMU) this brought two questions to my mind…

1. Are we becoming too “religious” in our rituals to honor his noodly appendage?

As a result of a week of closures there was no time for campus catering to prepare the dinner we had planned.  Nevertheless, Student Activities did go our of their way to facilitate having some food that evening – specifically, Papa John’s Pizza.

I notified those signed up on Facebook and Meetup that we would have food – just not the pasta planned – so that they wouldn’t be disappointed when then arrived.  Ironically, pizza is actually more popular than pasta and had we marketed this event as a pizza dinner the student turnout likely would be higher.

A few people were extremely disappointed by the lack of pasta.  One of our student leaders pushed to continue with pasta through other means and in the end purchased pasta with their own funds to supplement the pizza.  The basis of the argument?  Having “truth in advertising”.

For what it’s worth, most of the pasta remained uneaten.

Personally, I was too busy running around at the last minute to participate in the debate.  With the changes came increased paperwork as well as the need for me buy soda, paper products and set up.  (The “pasta” dinner would have been fully catered and a staff member would have handled set up.)   Also, ordering pizza was not as simple as it sounds and we still have some outstanding issues with the vendor.

I understand the connection between the Flying Spaghetti Monster and “pasta dinner” and I don’t doubt that it would have been nice to have pasta but it’s more logical, in my mind, to do what is practical.  So, is this an issue?  Do we need to celebrate the FSM with pasta?  Should we have fought for pasta like other students fight for accommodations for their religious beliefs?  If so, it sounds like dogma to me.  The FSM is not a real religion and therefore we should be able to adjust our rituals as necessary.

2. Should an event be canceled, or rescheduled, in consideration of inclement weather cancellations earlier in the week?

We still had the guest speaker – Tim Farley from Whatstheharm.net – although we were significantly delayed in getting him to the event due to heavy traffic on recently plowed streets.  We also had less than half the turnout expected.

Student and community members who were off campus had no intention of coming on campus for a free meal when they had been home all week and were coming up on the weekend.  Students who were on campus didn’t get exposure to the advertising we would have normally done.   We had intended to have a kiosk at the Johnson Center (JC), a major building on campus.  However the JC and many other buildings we had hung flyers in were closed all week.

If we rescheduled, we would have had to find a new speaker as the 2/12 date happened to correspond with Tim’s travel plans.  Nevertheless, I feel that we should have chosen that route.  Of course we could have gotten pasta later but that isn’t the reason for my opinion.

A major part of holding an event is to build recognition of the student group.  Even people who can’t attend, see that there is a party with free food, a great speaker, and – most importantly – there is a Secular Student Alliance on campus!  This didn’t happen.  A few of our existing members did bring along friends but new faces were, by in large, absent from the event.

Also, at the end of the day I was left holding the ball.  There was, metaphorically, no one to toss the ball to because no one was anticipating drastic last minute changes.  Should one student leader struggle with paperwork, a bulk pizza order, a trip to the grocery store, and room set up by themselves on the day of the event?  For a student leader in a wheelchair, this was next to impossible.  I’m amazed that it all came together.  Although even for an able-bodied student leader I still would have recommended rescheduling the event.  This is too much work for one student to carry – especially in one day.

What is the best course of action for a student group whose event is affected by inclement weather?  In our situation, just because campus had finally reopened after a week of closures it didn’t mean that we needed to go through the event as planned.  I wrote this article because many of us feel the need to continue with plans despite the changes and to focus on the positive rather than contemplate the negative… sometimes our expectation to follow through despite bumps in the road becomes an obligation to charge on regardless of obstacles.  This doesn’t have to be the only option.


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  1. […] a comment » After the success of my Darwin Day (Pasta?) Dinner post, I’ve decided to change the direction of this blog…  specifically, I’ve […]

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