I’m finally back home (and rested) from the annual Secular Student Alliance conference in Ohio. I’ve been involved with the organization for several years and this was by far the best conference our staff has put together.
A few thoughts on why it worked — and other thoughts about the weekend — are below…
- The start time for events on Saturday and Sunday was 10:30 a.m. It was wonderful. You could go out at night, talk to other conference-goers in the dorms, and not worry about being tired/hung-over/exhausted the next day. There were lots of people in the audience for the morning speakers. That never happens. I know organizations like to pack as much as possible into a conference day, but a late start helped everyone.
- Because of the late start, a few talks had to be dropped. So our staff dropped any potentially boring speaker. Seriously. They gave the stage to the student leaders who have done amazing things at their schools and to off-campus leaders who can inspire them. They chose quality over quantity and I appreciated that.
- For the second year in a row, the SSA used the TED-talk format. Every speaker (except the Keynote and one major award recipient) had 20 minutes to present. If they were amazing, everyone in the audience was left wanting more — not a bad thing at all. If they were boring, they were done quickly — but hardly anyone bored me (and I rarely think that at a conference). Other conferences should adopt this format. It’s horrible to hear a bad speaker drone on for a full hour. When I looked at the crowd during both days, I never saw anyone nodding off to sleep. They were laughing and engaged.
- The SSA’s Executive Director, August Brunsman, gave away an apron as a prize the first night. If you’re an atheist chef, you should totally buy it:
- Jen McCreight‘s campus group, The Society of Nontheists at Purdue University, won the award for Best Service Project. And they got an oversized check (which is always fun):
- This was offered as advice for campus group leaders, but it really applies to everybody: “Sometimes you have to delegate a task to someone who won’t do as good a job as you could have. GET OVER IT.”
- As Lucy from the University of Oregon Alliance of Happy Atheists pointed out, please don’t be this guy on your campus:
[Guy wearing offensive shirt]
It makes us all look bad.
- Debbie Goddard pointed out the fact that we have a problem with diversity in our movement. Not too surprising, right? But it really hit home when she showed this picture of a Skeptics Society conference from a few years ago:
Notice anything… umm… manly and white about it? It happens at many atheist/skeptic conferences, too. It’s not that groups purposely ignore women and minorities, but we need to make special efforts to reach out to those groups so we can really be more inclusive.
- After hearing Cassy Byrne from Northwestern university talk about how her group drew stick figure Muhammads on their campus, I’m more convinced than ever that Draw Muhammad Day was a positive and necessary event:
- As JT Eberhard noted, there are many ways that you can support free speech on your campus. This is one of the ways his group in Missouri received some attention while having fun in the process:
Without more context, that may seem offensive, but I found it anything but. It raised an important point: Words aren’t bad. It’s the context that matters.
- Everything at the conference was taped and the SSA will be putting the videos up on YouTube soon. I can’t wait to post them…
The one downside to the weekend: my car internally exploded on the drive to Columbus. It sat in an auto shop for a day before it was fixed back to normal. And then, magically, everything in my wallet disappeared.
If anyone would like to buy me a new car, that’d be terrific