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eNews Number 4 - The Extended Back-to-School Edition

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Secular Student eNews
08/27/2005

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In this issue:
Secular shorts:

Bible education class. In public schools. Technically, legal. But you'd need someone who really knows the Bible. Someone who will not indoctrinate, but explain the Bible's role in history. Someone who is comfortable talking about the subject… I think we just found a slew of job openings for non-believers! (Who knows more about the Bible than a hard-core Atheist?!)



Wow… Atheism in a positive light. Don't see that very often. Yay for San Diego! The author's contact information is at the bottom of the column. Write and tell him he's your hero.



Remember those "500 hours of AOL" CDs that everyone had and no one could ever stop from piling up? The Jesus Video Project America is following in AOL's footsteps. Millions of dollars have been spent in order to deliver a copy of "Jesus" to every home in the country. Find out more in this article. We're having a contest. First person to collect 1,000 of these movies gets a shout-out in the eNews.



Need An Advisor and Don't Know Where to Look?

Write up a letter describing your group and explaining your situation. Then simply slip it under office doors and wait for a response. The best departments to hit are usually Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology and the sciences. Places you can skip: Your local Newman Center and the Athletic department (God is always on their side).



The "Intelligent Falling" theory. Another reason that dropping out of public high school doesn't seem like such a bad idea anymore. (The Onion rules.)



Focus on the Family would like you to know they have started a great new website to "Reach Young Christian Singles"! Learn why watching pornography could be detrimental to your love life. Read a column on how women need to stay in the house (ironically written by an author named Dyck). Wanna meet other Christian singles? Too bad. Something tells me Dan Savage didn't write these columns…



Contact us!
Call us toll free at 1-877-842-9474. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are always happy to hear from you and answer any questions or concerns!

What do you think?
This is your eNewsletter and we are always updating and changing to fit your needs, so please let us know what you think of our new format! Email [email protected] with any suggestions, ideas, or comments.


Starting Out the School Year on the Right Foot

Brian is in the booth!

Did your student group rock the casbah last year--had a dozen or so rockin' events and so many members it was bursting at the seams? Or did it consist of two members huddled in an empty classroom clutching the humanist manifesto to their chests and wondering "Where... where have all the atheists gone???"

Guess what... in the grand scheme of things last year does not matter at all. Why? Because your group can completely reinvent itself every single year. The tiny group could grow to astronomical proportions and the successful group could implode. The way you start off the school year can dictate the future of your organization.

So how do you start off the school year on the right foot? Membership recruitment is key. Grab those eager wide-eyed freshmen before they wander off and join other campus groups or get sucked into the world of sororities and fraternities.

The best way to recruit?... be like the missionaries! No, I am not saying you should stand in the center of campus and tell everyone they will burn in hell if the accursed liquor crosses their lips. But you have to admit, they are very visible. It is difficult to walk around most schools without noticing paraphernalia for religious groups spattered throughout campus.

When you think of campus organizations at your school which ones pop into your mind? More than likely it is the most visible ones. (That may seem obvious, and yet, so many secular groups remain as invisible as the gods they don't pray to.)

What are the best ways to become visible? Flyering is effective and cheap. Go out the night before classes start and plaster the campus with your literature. The first thing everyone will see on the way to their classes with be your flyers. If anyone from your group is in town during freshman orientation be sure to have someone tabling or flyer the most populated areas.

Tabling can be a very effective way to recruit new members. Does your school have a student activities fair at the beginning of each academic year? How about another large annual event that most students attend? This is a perfect way to make your group visible and to get contact information of interested students. If you need tips, advice, or supplies, contact the Campus Organizer!

A large event can also draw in lots of people. Controversy always sparks interest. Come up with a controversial topic and host a debate or request someone from the SSA Speakers' Bureau. Some interesting and controversial debate topics would be "Did Christ Really Exist?" "What Does the Bible Say About Abortion?" "Is the US Turning Into a Theocracy?"

Working together with other campus organizations is a good way to make your group visible as well. Think: What groups would be willing to set differences aside and work together on a common cause? How about service projects? Is there a service project that you and say… Campus Crusade for Christ or Amnesty International or a sorority or fraternity could work on together? When you work with other campus groups you save money and draw in more people. When you participate in service projects you help refute nasty stereotypes associated with our movement.

Also, be sure to use all the SSA Services that are available. Our organization is here to help so use us! We have project and travel grants that mostly go unused every year because so few groups apply for them. We also have the Speakers' Bureau, listservs, TurnKey and more. For a complete list of SSA Services visit our website: http://www.secularstudents.org/services

-- Lisa Swinehart


Having a solid group foundation

Your group is not going to go anywhere if it is falling apart at the seams. Make sure all the administrative aspects are covered before the year begins! This guide is ever more important for new groups.

  1. Be sure all officer positions are filled. If you have no officers selected yet someone will have to step up and play the interim president until an election can be held.
  2. Set up two listservs…one for officers and one for the general membership. This is free and easy just use yahoogroups or your school.
  3. Update your website and be sure to post the most recent contact information and meetings places and times. Make sure all the contact info listed on the university's campus organization site is correct, too.
  4. Review your budget and make sure all proper paperwork has been filed with the university.
  5. Touch base with your advisor and invite him/her to your first meeting or event.

Now sit down with the officers and come up with a basic plan for the year.

  1. First you want to brainstorm a bit…start off being totally unrealistic and then bring it back down to reality. Cover these topics: Where do you see the group next year at this time? How many members do you want to have? How visible do you want to be? How much money do you want to raise? What do you want students and faculty to think of atheist, freethinkers, humanists...?
  2. Now go through the list and prioritize using these guidelines:
  3. A = Absolutely Necessary
    Activities that must be completed or there will be severe consequences.
  4. B= Basic Need
    Important but the consequences are not a severe.
  5. C=Can/Can't
    No consequences if you complete them or not.
  6. D=Desirable - or - Delegate
    Things you would like to do but they are not necessary. Delegate means that someone else could perhaps do this.
  7. E=Eliminate
    Time wasters that are either unrealistic or bypass your mission.*
  8. Now you want to establish 5 goals. You want to set specific, realistic goals that most everyone can agree on. If you take the time to do this you want to do it right so I highly suggest you visit the S.M.A.R.T. Goals website for some excellent guidance on goal setting Just print out the first page and use it as a guide.
    Examples of some good goals would be: We want to have 3 events, recruit 5 new members, secure $100 more for next year's budget, find a new advisor, and set up a meeting planning schedule.
  9. Next set up a basic outline for the next three month's worth of meetings. This will give you time to advertise, raise money, request equipment and contact speakers. Do the same thing every 2 ½ months. This does not have to be extremely specific. Just remember, the closer the event, the more specific you want it to be. For example, "In two weeks we will have Dr. Smith from the paleontology department talk about evolution, in a month and a half we want to cover the decline of civil liberties in the US…maybe we should have Susie Johnson from the ACLU come and give a talk. Bob, do you want to check into that for us?"
  10. Now that all of that is out of the way start looking ahead to next year. If two officers or more are graduating start looking around for their replacements. Also, encourage or require each officer to write up a guide on their position with pertanent information like: where to apply for university funding, how to request a meeting room, when to contact the manager of Bob's Bar about having a social there in February, etc. This guide can be handed down to the next generation of officers and create continuity. I strongly suggest putting it online somewhere (password protected) so that it can't be lost in the shuffle.

Remember, it is never too late to plan and if you need any help contact the Campus Organizer for most guidance and materials.

-- Lisa Swinehart

*Prioritizing guidelines adapted from Springboard by Sandra Mencer et al.



Bright Beginnings: Ask an Atheist-Secular Students Educate Their Communities

As almost any non-believer can tell you, there is a lot of misunderstanding out there about atheists, agnostics, humanists, and non-religious people of all stripes. Even before we get to the issues on which secular people disagree with religious people, there is a lot of brush clearing that has to be done just to get to the point where each of the groups understands what the other group actually believes and stands for.

Members of Students For Freethought (SFF) at the Ohio State University took a crack at this problem by hosting a panel called "Ask an Atheist or Agnostic." One evening in mid-February five members of SFF served as panelists and took questions from an audience of around fifty people about their worldviews and lives. Panelists represented a diversity of viewpoints and religious histories. Don Sutterfield, for example, is a former Christian youth minister who became an atheist as an adult. Jeff Dubin, a social worker in Columbus, was raised as a secular Jew. Most of the audience members were people who did not normally attend SFF meetings, and they asked questions about a number of topics.

SFF President and moderator of the panel, Stuart Wells, introduced the event by saying that the point was not to convert anyone, but rather for us to learn from each other. Many of the audience members had not previously had a chance to ask someone who was openly non-religious about what they believe, and the panel provided answers to questions about where they got their values, how they found meaning in their lives, how they lost their faith, how they felt about death and how they spent their Sunday mornings. Aside from some minor tension surrounding the use of the words "when" vs. "if" in a question about the second coming, the event was very cordial and positive.

A few months later students from the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics (SOMA) at the University of Kansas held an "Ask an Atheist" panel on their campus. The panel included students, faculty members, and community members. Dr. Paul Mireki, the group's advisor and a professor of religious studies at University of Kansas; Jo Ann Mooney, President of Heartland Humanists a local humanist group near Kansas City; and SOMA members Jim Boyd, Erika Shearer were among the panelists. Stephanie Kirmer, the SOMA webmaster, reported that "the event was attended by approximately 70 people, and they asked mostly well-thought out and respectful questions." She went on to say that "some of the topics they covered included: ethics, death, the meaning of life, the idea of proofs of god or not, and whether religion is necessary or good for society."

Contacts forged between SFF and SOMA members through conferences and other SSA-sponsored events helped this idea to travel from one campus to another. Seeing the obvious success and benefit from this event, the SSA plans to send out an activity packet to all of its campus affiliate groups to help them hold similar panels on their campuses in the future.


Bright Beginnings is a bimonthly column reporting on the secular student movement published by the Secular Student Alliance. It is syndicated in more than 20 freethought newsletters. For information on getting Bright Beginnings in your newsletter, contact August E. Brunsman IV at [email protected]. Bright Beginnings is written by Amanda K. Metskas, a third-year graduate student in Political Science at the Ohio State University. Metskas is a member of Students for Freethought at OSU and the SSA. She can be reached at [email protected].



SSA Conference 2005 Awards

Look at them threads!

At the recent SSA conference, we gave out several awards! Congratulations to the students and their groups for doing such a wonderful job.

  • Affiliate of the Year: Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists (at Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities)
    CASH not only held their own conference this year, they cooperated with several organizations to pull it off, including: Humanists of MN, MN Atheists, SSA, Americans United, American Atheists, AHA, WTA and more--including the local campus Buddhist and Hindu groups. And Students for Family Values (no joke!). In addition, they've received $8,500 from their school for use in the future. Accepting the plaque and $200 award were: Mike Jones, Joe Foley, Jacob Larson, and Norm Barrett.
  • Best New Affiliate: Round Earth Society at Cal Poly Pomona
    The Round Earth Society did quite a bit for being a new group at a commuter school. They sent 8 students to the AAI conference. They held a debate with DJ Grothe (of CFI). They had a marriage equality event. They participate regularly with Skeptic Society, CFI West, and Atheists United. They give away Darwin Fish to new members. They even have a great website and have written (and gotten published) letters to the editor of their campus paper. Accepting the plaque and $100 award was Neil Polzin.
  • Best Service Project: James Madison University Freethinkers
    The JMU Freethinkers raised money for Doctors Without Borders, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing emergency medical relief in countries devastated by natural disasters. Because of a letter published in their school paper, the popularity of the "Bracelet of Life" they were selling, and the worthiness of an organization like Doctors Without Borders, the JMU Freethinkers raised a little over $300. Donations were received from generous students and faculty members of the university who passed their table. The JMU Freethinkers plan to make fundraising for Doctors Without Borders an annual event. Accepting the plaque and $100 award were: Maggie Ardiente, Mike Taft, Helen Curtis, and Zachary Rezin.
  • The Backbone Award: Herb Silverman (Pictured above, wearing a tuxedo shirt!)
    Herb is a Professor of Mathematics at the College of Charleston, where he is founder and faculty advisor to the Atheist-Humanist Alliance student group. He is President of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry Freethinkers in South Carolina, national board member of the American Humanist Association, and national board member of the Atheist Alliance International. He is also President of the Secular Coalition for America Secular Coalition for America, an umbrella group consisting of five national freethought organizations. Herb has been rocking the freethought house since 1990 when he sued the state of South Carolina because of its religious test for running for public office. This involved running for governor. While he lost that race, he eventually won the right to become a notary public in 1997, overturning the religious test law. Herb received a nice plaque and a water bottle, courtesy of SSA.


  • Fundraising Drive

    The SSA is having a fundraising drive! We'd like to start the year off with the best resources for all of our groups. So, we'd like to raise $10,000 by September. Help support your local groups by donating any amount you can here. Tell your friends, family, and pastor!



    Help Sam and you could win $100!

    Sam's letter to us:

    My name is Sam Cole and I am a graduate student at Loyola University Chicago. I am inviting you to participate in a survey that I am conducting for my master's thesis. I am interested in how individuals of many religious traditions respond to questions about their religion and spirituality. You can access the survey by clicking on the link below. The survey takes between 25 and 30 minutes to complete and can be taken at any time.

    A donation of $100 will be awarded to the charity or religious group as chosen by two random winners. Only those participants who enter their e-mail address will be considered in this random drawing.

    http://www.zoomerang.com/survey.zgi?p=WEB224HBXK6EVE

    Thank you!

    Sam Cole


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