Godless Grad Student

news and reflections from an active atheist and disabled graduate student

Archive for October 2010

To Cross… or not to Cross (Post)? I say no.

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As a local group leader… or more specifically, as the Organizer of the largest and most active group in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area, I’m often asked to cross post events.  What’s cross posting?  Essentially listing another group’s event on our group’s event calendar.  It’s become the latest trend in cooperation… if we’re all going to be friends then we are, as local leaders, almost expected to advertise for other groups in this fashion.

District of Columbia Atheists, Inc. runs 4 Meetup groups in addition to their day-to-day functions and the DCA Board is essentially against cross posting.  Quite frankly, I never used to think about it much.  However I’m on the Board and it’s a Board discussion so lately I have been giving it a great deal of though.  My conclusion.  I don’t like it.

I know this is a very controversial opinion and I’m likely to be branded as uncooperative from here on out, but it’s the truth.  More than just not liking it, I actually think cross-posting *hurts* the community.  Here’s why:

1. It generates a huge amount of Meetup SPAM.  Members receive 3 automated reminders from Meetup for every event.  So if one event is on two groups they belong to, they automatically end up  with 6 messages.  3 groups? 9 messages. 5 groups? 15 messages…. you get the picture.  Members complain about all this activity and overtime they ignore all Meetup e-mail (missing important events) or leave the group entirely (missing all events.)

2. It de-values the smaller group.  If almost every event on one group is listed on another, why belong to both?

3. It creates chaos and confusion… Many people belong to multiple groups and the question they as is, “did I RSVP here? or there?”  How many seats should the Organizer reserve at the venue?  (Which brings me to another point… Organizers who copy events from one group to their group because they think it’s cool – or they are just lazy – (i.e. “poaching”) without asking the original organizer who planned the event, are just plan rude.  These are the people who should be branded uncooperative and not those who simply say no.)

4. The cross posting group risks alienating their members.  Several years ago, I cross-posted an event, upon request, because they had a well-known speaker.  Although the speaker was great, the group itself was a little more “religious” than my hardcore atheist members and I was dealing with complaints for the next two weeks.

So, why do Organizers even ask other Organizers to cross post?  Simple.  It will increase turnout at their event.  But at what cost?

Cross posting puts organizers in an awkward situation.  If they don’t cross post they are considered to be working against another group, when in fact they may just think the event doesn’t match up with their goals.  Or they may not want to piss off their members… or other groups they already (or plan to) say “no” to. So, why ask? Why give other local leaders the “problem” of having to find a polite way to say no.

Once or twice a year… fine… I’ll cross post large events for another group, but then it opens the door to being asked for event, after event, after event.  Really?  Not having a single event on your calendar that can’t be found on another group’s calendar is suppose to help your membership? It may help in the short-term with individual event turnout, but it hurts longterm membership.  So back to the DCA Board: We concluded that we will only cross post events if they are not listed on more than one Meetup calendar and don’t conflict with our own events and, honestly, I think that’s more than cooperative.

I do genuinely want to help other groups and the community at large but at the end of the day, I’m not sure cross posting helps at all.

I’m interested in what other people think.  Please, share your thoughts.


Written by godlessgradstudent

October 25, 2010 at 7:25 am

Press Release: Godless Bus Shelter Ads along National Mall Launch New Coalition

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Godless Bus Shelter Ads along National Mall Launch New Coalition

Will Be Seen by Crowds at Jon Stewart Rally and Science Expo

For Immediate Release

(Washington DC, October 19, 2010) “Don’t Believe in God? Join the club.”

These words are part of prominent bus shelter ads near the National Mall in Washington DC that will be visible to pedestrians and drivers on Independence and Constitution Avenues for the next four weeks. Thus they will be seen by those who work in the area as well as visitors attending such Mall events as the USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo on October 23 and 24, the dueling rallies of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert on October 30, and the 35th Marine Corps Marathon on October 31 (miles 18 and 19).

The 67″x46″ bus shelter ads feature the words superimposed over an image of a blue sky and fluffy clouds. They were placed by the new Washington DC Area Coalition of Reason (Washington CoR) with $7,875 in funding from the United Coalition of Reason (United CoR).

Washington CoR is made up of 12 area groups which, according to its website, seek to “enhance the growth, visibility and acceptance of nontheists throughout the metro area” and promote “wider acceptance of a more rational view of the universe and a more compassionate view of those who live in it.” A complete list of the participating organizations and friends of the coalition can be found athttp://washington.unitedcor.org/node/7 . Members of these groups plan to march under a Coalition of Reason banner at the Jon Stewart rally on October 30.

The Washington DC campaign is also part of a national effort. Already this year there have been similar billboards and bus ads in Austin, Des Moines, Detroit, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tucson, Sacramento, St. Louis, and Seattle. Last year there were United CoR-sponsored billboard, bus, and subway ads in 20 cities, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Tulsa, Phoenix and San Diego.

“The point of our nationwide awareness campaign is to reach out to the millions of atheists, agnostics and humanists living in the United States,” explained Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason. “Such individuals sometimes don’t realize there’s a community for them because they’re flooded with traditional religious messages at every turn. So we hope this will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”

Reaching out to the like-minded isn’t the only goal of the effort. “We also want the public to see that there are many humanists, agnostics and atheists living here as part of the community,” added Shelley Mountjoy, coordinator of Washington CoR. “We’re your friends, neighbors, coworkers and relatives. And like many people, we are leading quality lives: contributing to neighborhood and nation and living our values.”

“Being visible is important for us,” Edwords concluded, “because atheists and agnostics in our society often don’t know many people of like mind. Furthermore, if traditionally religious people can be open about their views, why shouldn’t we be open about ours?”

# # #

For hi-res images of the bus shelter ads, free for media use, see the right sidebar on this page. The exact locations of the bus shelters are as follows:

Independence Avenue, south side, 10 feet west of 12th Street, SW, facing east. This is in front of the Smithsonian Metrorail Station (Independence Avenue exit) next to the Department of Agriculture and the Knapp Memorial Arch and across the street from the Department of Energy. It doubles as a stop for the Open Top Sightseeing Bus.

Independence Avenue, south side, 90 feet west of 3rd Street, SW, facing east. This is in front of the Voice of America, across Independence from the Museum of the American Indian and across 3rd from the Department of Health and Human Services. It doubles as a stop for the 30s Metrobuses.

7th Street, east side, 30 feet south of Constitution Avenue, NW, facing north. This is next to the National Gallery of Art, across from the Sculpture Garden, catercorner from the National Archives and about a block south of the Archives-Navy Memorial Metrorail Station. It doubles as a stop for the Red Circulator Bus.


# # #

The Washington DC Area Coalition of Reason is a network of local groups that have joined together to increase the sense of community among like-minded people and to enhance the growth, visibility, and acceptance of nontheists throughout the Washington DC metro area.

The United Coalition of Reason is a national organization, headquartered in Washington DC, that works to raise the visibility and sense of unity among local groups in the community of reason by providing funding, expertise, and opportunities for cooperation.

# # #

For more information contact:

Shelley Mountjoy
Coordinator, Washington CoR

Steve Lowe
Media Rep., Washington CoR

Fred Edwords
National Director
United Coalition of Reason


the next big issue of religious accommodation on college campuses?

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The GW Hatchet, the independent student newspaper at George Washington University has announced that the college will be holding female-only swimming hours in the University’s Lerner Health and Wellness Center – referred to as “HelWell” by students.

I’m sure the argument could be made that this is done for tons of secular reasons… maybe a women’s synchronized swimming team needs practice time without others splashing the water.  On that note, perhaps could also have “physical disability hours” where those with disability could float without interference from the able-bodied students?  If we look hard enough, we could come up with reasons for every group to have their own hours.

Although today the article unequivocally states these female-only hours are for religious accommodation.  It opens with the story of a female student by the name of Zainah Khan who did not bring her bathing suit to campus because her religious belief forbids her from being seen in immodest clothing.  In the accompanying photograph, Zainah is wearing a headscarf – specifically, hijab.

Apparently the Muslim Students’ Association has been busy intervening on behalf of Zainah and other female students.  The result is “Sister Splash” aka female-only pool time.

“Every week, GW plans to close the HelWell pool to men and will cover the glass door with a dark tarp, giving female Muslim students the chance to swim at their leisure. The University also hired a female lifeguard to be on duty for each week’s event.”

Furthermore, Valdez Williams, the operations manager of the gym, makes it clear that religious accommodation is the cause:

“The girls should be able to swim here,” Williams said. “We will not penalize them because of their religious beliefs.””

GW’s a private school and it’s certainly permissible for them to accommodate the religion of their students.  GW was one of the first colleges to include foot baths (aka Islamic Washing Stations) on campus.  When foot baths spread to public schools however, like nearby George Mason University and with the spread they “picked up” secular justification.

I think we need to keep an eye on this… after prayer rooms, foot baths, and (excessive) halal food options, I predict this will be the next big issue of religious accommodation on college campuses.  I could think of a few secular reasons to legitimately have female-only hours but that’s not the reason here and this is something we need to remember when public colleges and universities jump on the bandwagon.

The problem with religious accommodation on public colleges (besides the first amendment, that is) is that it builds up the idea that religion should be immune from criticism.  All of a sudden when someone mentions needing x, y, or z for their religion there seems to be a perceived need to bend over backwards to accommodate.  Later we use our imagination to think up some legitimate basis for the change and all of a sudden what was a religious accommodation is a-okay.

UPDATE: I found an interesting article from 2008 on the repercussions of Harvard offering female-only gym hours.

Written by godlessgradstudent

October 18, 2010 at 3:07 pm