Godless Grad Student

news and reflections from an active atheist and disabled graduate student

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


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For those of you that have not heard, a man who identified himself as an atheist held three hostages at the gunpoint.  The hostages are safe; the gunman was shot and killed.  It seems to be titled “Discovery Hostage Situation” through the media.  I first heard about it though a phone call yesterday afternoon.  I didn’t have Internet access all day, so I’m catching up with the media reports now.  Due to extremely heavy traffic on 95 S, I finally made it home at 2 AM and I’ve spent the last hour reading media reports and sharing some thoughts.

The gunman was James Lee, although I knew him as  just “Lee.”  Lee was active in the local atheist community.  In addition to the thoughts on overpopulation he “shared” yesterday, Lee believed the 9/11 attacks were a conspiracy.  He was also adamantly anti-immigration.

In one of my first conversations with Lee, he informed me that he moved to the DC area to be involved in political activism… that this was where everything was supposed to be happening and he was disappointed that more was not going on.  He certainly did not hide the fact that he thought he could save the world but he never made any statements about breaking the law or using violence to obtain his objectives.

In short, he said he was staying here until he ran out of money – probably this year.  (He was not employed.)  I was suspicious that he was planning to commit suicide when that time came.

Lee never hesitated to share his thoughts at local events.  This quote (from CNN) sums up his behavior well.

During the negotiations, Lee exhibited a “range of emotions,” Manger said. At times he was agitated and at times he was calm, but he never strayed far from his grievance against Discovery, he said.

Lee would frequently have an outburst for several seconds and then resume a calm demeanor.  Members were frequently taken aback during these moments.  He was interested in public speaking and specifically honing his ability to convey his arguments more effectively.

I was concerned about some of his fringe thoughts and I warned other local leaders about Lee.  I also discouraged Lee from attending events with a group I lead.  Although he continued to be active in several other groups, he did not attend the group I lead since May of this year.  As I read the media reports now, many of the pieces are coming together and I’m now realizing that today’s events were Lee’s plan for quite some time.  I also went back and searched my e-mail and I noticed he used the name “Mister Guerilla” on his account… I hadn’t paid any attention to this earlier.

This entire situation brings up something else that I have been working on a blog post to discuss.  Atheism is only a statement about one thing – a lack of belief in god.  It says nothing about what else you may or may not believe or how you came to lack belief.  Some people do not come to atheism through critical thinking and other times those who do, fail to apply critical thinking to aspects of their life outside of religion.

Violence (or threats of violence) is never the answer.  I plan to share more thoughts on the situation tomorrow but it’s been a long day and I need to get some rest.  I specifically want to touch on what we, as local leaders, can do to create safe spaces for inquiry and reflection.

One last thought before I go to bed: I don’t think he did this *because* he was an atheist… more tomorrow.

Written by godlessgradstudent

September 2, 2010 at 2:45 am

I did not enjoy TAM 8… here’s why.

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TAM 8 was held in the South Point Hotel and Casino. Prior to getting on the plane, I called to make a reservation for the shuttle. At that time, I was told that all of their shuttles (airport and mall) were accessible. I also spent a good deal of time online reading about how Las Vegas (casinos) have “treated the disabled as  first class citizens even before the ADA” so I was looking forward to getting out and enjoying the city. At the airport the shuttle was marvelous and the driver was friendly…little did I know, the next time things would be so accessible would be when I boarded the shuttle to return to the airport. In the past seven years I have used a wheelchair, I’ve stayed in a number of hotels; South Point was, by far, the least accessible.

When I checked in, I was asked if I wanted a shower or bathtub… bathtub please! You have a tub bench, right? Wrong. The front desk called housekeeping and subsequently told me they did not have benches left. I asked when they anticipated having one as I was willing to go a night without a bath. She didn’t know so in the end I took the room with the shower. Logically, why would a hotel not have a shower bench for every accessible tub? No, I don’t mean every bathroom but simply every accessible bathroom. It just makes sense and not doing so would be a bit like not having enough sheets for all the beds! At the very least they could have kept track of which rooms their benches were in and how long the corresponding guests were staying. (I’ll come back to what happened when I tried to use the shower.)

The largest issue was the floor throughout the hotel. Keep in mind, the hotel was huge (2,200 rooms) and it was often a bit of a distance from A to B. Essentially, the floor was uneven – perhaps it could be described as wobbly in places – and often the carpet was not tight. It resembled more of a drapery than a tight floor covering. Logically, it’s probably difficult to pull the carpet tight and flat with an uneven floor!. It was difficult and exhausting to push myself and even when another person was assisting it was near impossible to keep my chair in a straight line. It was so bad that I would not be surprised if able-bodied people occasionally tripped or had issues with rolling luggage.

In the bathroom, the drain was not at the lowest part of the shower! Despite using bedsheets and towels to hold the water back, it was difficult and unsafe for me to transfer from my chair in the pond that quickly became the bathroom floor. I’m always in a bad mood after risking my safety for what should be an easy routine task. With that much water the floor stayed wet until housekeeping mopped it up; therefore creating a mess every time I returned to the bathroom to brush my teeth, etc.

Another major issue I had was the shuttle to the mall. Keep in mind, they told me the mall shuttle was accessible before I arrived. I purchased tickets to a show one night from the hotel travel agent; I even made a point of selecting a show closer to the shuttle drop off than the one I initially selected. When I went to board the shuttle there was no wheelchair lift.  The driver said I could ask the front desk and they would send a shuttle with a lift. Well, after three hours at the front desk there was still no shuttle. The most annoying part of the entire conversation was when the supervisor told me they “aren’t required to have an accessible shuttle” as if that made up for the fact that they told me it was accessible before I arrived and I would not have purchased show tickets and been excited about the show if I knew I could not take the shuttle.  Would a hotel tell you they have a pool and then, when you arrive and wonder where the pool is, state that they “aren’t required” to have a pool?  I don’t think so.

Some of my accessibility issues were specific to the conference – for instance, I hate buffets. (TAM had two buffet lunches included in registration and I attended one.) The difficulty of balancing a plate with one hand while pushing with another is bad enough when able-bodied people let you ahead of the line. However, none of the other participants were considerate in this regard – in fact a few people pushed me out of the way as the buffet line resembled a stampede of cattle. Fun. I gave up a quarter of the way through and took a space at the nearest table.

Since I run the Drinking Skeptically in Richmond, I was interested in checking out the Drinking Skeptically event at TAM but that too turned into more of a disappointment. It was essentially held in a bar that I’ll describe as a fenced-in platform. While there was a ramp, the furniture was packed in so tight I couldn’t move once I came up the ramp. I probably made it about three feet before becoming so frustrated and heading back to the room.

There were tons of other issues in the hotel. In general, I felt like wheelchairs, walkers, canes, etc. were an afterthought. Almost like someone went through with a checklist of requirements after construction and ignored how someone with a disability actually lives. For instance, there were large signs indicating the presence of a movie theater but when I arrived there was only an escalator. I later discovered another (significantly smaller) sign for movies on the other side of the hotel where an elevator was in fact located. I did go to a movie and bowling – both of which were highlights of the weekend. Good thing I went on a scavenger hunt for that elevator! It is common practice in such a situation for a venue to have a sign at the dominate entrance to tell people where the elevator is and I think it is downright irresponsible to send those people who have the most difficulties with mobilities searching for a way upstairs!

They did comp one night in the hotel for the inconvenience of the shuttle situation and a $25 dining credit in consideration of spending three hours at the front desk.  I did enjoy the meal but I would have preferred to see the show.

When I registered for TAM 8, I was intending to spend 2 weeks in Las Vegas. However, due to extenuating circumstances, the trip was cut to 5 days and that turned out to be a good thing. Although all the talks I did hear were great, when I have to fight so hard just to get ready and down to the conference room, I find it difficult to have a good time.  In general, I am the type of person that tries to go out of my way to make things accessible but it really became such a disappointment when I was faced with barriers turn after turn.  If only one or two problems had crept up it wouldn’t have been such a problem but it was almost a constant fight… I realize I didn’t even go into the bed being so high I almost injured myself. (EDIT: I’ve been told this line makes it sound as if I was high… I meant the bed was physically high – probably around 30 inches.  The ideal – for the disabled – is between 19 and 21 inches.)

I won’t be returning to TAM in the future – at least not if it’s held at South Point.

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July 17, 2010 at 10:10 pm

It’s May already?!

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It’s hard to believe I haven’t updated the blog since March.

So much has happened in the DC Secular movement.  Most notably, Beltway Atheists Meetup Group has merged with Maryland Atheist Outreach.  The new group is called Capital Beltway Atheists and has a new, professional logo created by a designer just for the change!

In addition, the group is committed to expanding outreach in Maryland.  Beltway Atheists Meetup Group already held one event in MD each month – a Happy Hour in Bethesda.  However, the new group will hold at least one event, in addition to the Happy Hour, in MD each month.

For June, the New Member Meet & Greet will be in Rockville.  This has always been a very popular event and this time it should serve as a great way for both group members to mingle.

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May 22, 2010 at 11:27 am

march in a minute

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Wow!  I just realized it’s been a whole month since I’ve spoken about events that have taken place around DC.

I still haven’t been able to attend Beltway Atheists Happy Hours because they conflict with my school/work schedule.  However, we’ve had three in March… as usual, Tommy Joe’s in Bethesda, Mai Thai in Dupont Circle, and Joe Theissmann’s in Alexandria.  Christopher ran all three.  Aside from a banned member showing up at one, things were for the most part, fun and successful.

Beltway Atheists’ Charitable Works Committee cleaned our adopted highway (Rt. 7) for the first time this year.  (We’re obligated to clean the highway 4 times a year.)  Unfortunately I couldn’t make it due to illness.  On March 11th, Neil deGrasse Tyson came to GW.  The event was incredible!  It had been moved to March due to snow but we still had about 25 Beltway Atheists members among the 750 or so people who attended.

Gina Welch spoke at Politics and Prose in March as well… with short notice, many of us could not come but we do have a similar event on the calendar for April.

Our cultural event for the month was a trip to the Holocaust Museum… I was a bit disorganized but it was a powerful experience.

There were also a number of events on the Beltway Atheists calendar that I could not attend – all were on the topic of evolution:

– A panel discussion on ‘Religious Perspectives n the Science of Human Origins”

– A play celebrating Darwin’s impact

– A book discussion

– A film on the life of Charles Darwin

Among the more controversial events, WASH had a lecture on polyamory.  There were a number of objections before the event but it went on without incident.

Student groups at American University and George Mason University hosted Tom Flynn on March 22nd and 23rd… he gave a talk on “The Trouble With Easter” and it was very well researched and enjoyed by many.

Finally, for those of you who find the whole 6-6-6 thing interesting, Beltway Atheists reached the 666 member mark on March 26th.

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April 3, 2010 at 9:01 pm