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Toronto Secular Alliance wins SSA Best Website Award


This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 13 - Odds & Ends.

This article is by Leslie A. Zukor, a second-semester Reed College sophomore who intends to major in anthropology and linguistics. She is the Founder and Signator (i.e., President) of the Reed Secular Alliance, more information about which can be found at: http://rsa-secular.blogspot.com.

What makes a Best Website? I wondered, as I read the transcript of this year's winner. According to the SSA's Executive Director, August Brunsman, the Best Website allows people to get the most involved, is easiest to navigate, and offers a colorful look into the collegiate freethought movement. This year's recipient of the Best Website award is The University of Toronto's Secular Alliance (TSA).

A year and a half ago, the Toronto Secular Alliance didn't even exist. Now, thanks to the ingenuity of president Justin Trottier, Elaine Cairns, and webmaster Alicia Pang, the TSA is a force to be reckoned with. "Justin is pretty much the [guy who] keeps us going," cites TSA Vice President and Humanists of Canada member-at-large Jennie Fiddes. "Without him, our club would still be the philosophy discussion group I originally had."

Now that the TSA has a 15-month track record, it can revel in several accomplishments: the club has gone citywide, meaning they have expanded beyond the gates of the University of Toronto. The TSA has started Canada's First Secular Freethought Centre, and has also hosted a freethought event with over 500 attendees. Sound impressive? I think so. How has the TSA been able to achieve unparalleled success? In today's fast-paced society, a creative, upbeat website is a must.

And according to Brunsman, the Toronto Secular Alliance's website is the sine qua non for its success. Did the TSA go and hire professionals to furnish a flashy site? Hardly. Rather, the success of the TSA's web page can be credited to philosophy major Alicia Pang ('07), the club's webmistress. To make the site easier to use, Pang installed Blogger (http://www.blogger.com) for the main page, which she ran in tandem with subsidiary static pages.

Alicia Pang
Alicia Pang, TSA Web-mistress, poses with the SSA Best Website Award.

"Blogger is free and extremely customizable," Pang explained enthusiastically, extolling the benefits of a blog-style website. "One techy person [can] design your web page for you," says Alicia, referring to her own position as TSA webmaster. But, she emphasized, "you [can] have anyone update the page, even if you don't know much about [web design]." And Pang explains that such a format has been extremely helpful when officers wanted to be creative. "The other…executive[s] tell me what to post, and they can also tell me how to organize it and change the design, [and] I'll go ahead and post something."

In addition to its unique blend of different technologies, the website has been very helpful in adapting to the needs of an expanding club. In mid-March, the TSA hosted its biggest event to date, a dual lecture with keynote Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University, and Robert Buckman, President of the Humanists of Canada. For this event to be a success, the Toronto Secular Alliance needed to take advantage of all possible technologies. "We wanted to sell tickets online," Pang explained, "so we used Paypal, and we kept people updated by making blog posts."


Michael Persinger and Robert Buckman, center, and the Toronto Secular Alliance pose at the March 14th dual lecture.

In the end, the club boasted 600 attendees, at least 5/6 of which took advantage of web-based ticket sales. And Pang has an explanation for this phenomenon: "Paypal is convenient for most people. [We sold] 100 [tickets] at most…at the door, [and] people who didn't want to use Paypal [could] email ahead to reserve tickets," Pang explained. "We didn't make a whole lot from it, but considering how many people heard about it," the publicity was worth the effort. In short, it was "a lot easier through Paypal than through an Excel spreadsheet."

Selling tickets online for an event is something that most mature clubs aren't able to do, says the SSA's Executive Director. That the TSA was able to do this after only a year in existence is a testament to the club's resourcefulness. To find out more about the Toronto Secular Alliance's many talents, including its award-winning website, don't hesitate to go to http://secular.sa.utoronto.ca. Also, feel free to check out the TSA's expanded site, which Pang has crafted using the more technologically-savvy Wordpress (http://wordpress.org); that website is http://www.secularalliance.ca.

This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 13 - Odds & Ends.

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