Friday, August 14, 2009

With school comes much non-theisty drama

Hey everyone. I just wanted to give all of you a heads up that I'm probably not going to have many updates for the next week. School's starting on the 24th, which means I'll be a going a bit crazy trying to get stuff done. Have to visit the family, finish up a lot of work, get books and supplies together, see friends I haven't seen all summer, and organize Society of Non-Theists events. And speaking of non-theist stuff, we already have some drama going on. Instead of explaining, I'll just show you the email I sent to the appropriate people here at Purdue:

Residential Life Managers,

On Tuesday, August 11 the Residence Hall Association held a religious diversity panel during Resident Assistant training. I am emailing you on behalf of the Society of Non-Theists because I received a complaint from an RA, who for their protection will remain anonymous. They said that while you included an atheist on the panel (which we thank you for), the discussion was upsetting for many reasons:

  1. Said atheist did not appear to know the basics about non-theism (wasn’t able to define atheism and agnosticism, had a hard time answering other questions)
  2. Said atheist had never been involved in the very active non-theist community here via either the Society of Non-Theists, the Skeptics Society, of the Lafayette Freethinkers
  3. Said atheist was a student going up against religious leaders and professors, resulting in an unfair power differential in the discussion
  4. Said atheist was jibed and teased because of his lack of belief by the other panel participants

Obviously, not being an RA, I was not personally at this event and cannot confirm how accurate these statements are. However, especially since I have previously received complaints about an unfavorable environment towards non-theists in the Resident Halls, they concern me. Non-theists are one of the most disliked and stereotyped groups in the United States, so promoting tolerance and understanding is one of our organization’s biggest goals. To have an unknowledgeable atheist student representing the largest “religious” minority in the US up against highly knowledgeable adults frankly makes us look bad and is detrimental to our progress. It is also incredibly inappropriate for the other panelists to tease each other or debate whose beliefs are more valid in a panel about diversity and acceptance.

We are incredibly happy to finally be included in the discussion about religion diversity, but we want to make sure these events themselves do not discriminate. I do not claim that the atheist was “set up” or that this was some sort of conscious act of discrimination, but that is was rather due to a lack of knowledge about the atheist community at Purdue and at large. For future events, we ask you to please make sure there is no power differential (for example, have everyone be students) and to contact our student organization for a representative who is knowledgeable about non-theism.

Thank you for your time,
Jennifer McCreight
President, Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University

Hopefully we get some sort of positive response. I'll keep you guys updated.


  1. Wow, fun times. Why didn't they just ask you, as president, to be apart of it, or any senior member in one of those other groups you mentioned?

  2. Yes, that's sort of the question. I didn't even know they were holding the panel until this person talked to me about it afterward.

  3. That's very upsetting, if true. But I dealt with a lot of RLMs at my university in my time - I lived in residence for 5 years and worked for the Student Union as their liason to the Residence Life Office. They can be pretty...stupid sometimes.

    I hope you get a good response and an apology at some point. These sorts of things are just terribly unnecessary. It especially is upsetting to expect a student to engage in a dialogue with professors. I wonder what was on their mind?

  4. The positive spin is of course that they're afraid of you, so they had to put a pansy on the panel.

  5. The US is a very, very weird place.

  6. When I was working for the Union, I actually did some time at RA camp. It's one of the most horrifying memories I have. Honestly, I truly believe that it's more about indoctrination of the RAs than teaching them how to do their job, at least how it was done at my alma mater.

    I'm not joking when I say this: they used infantile teaching techniques combined with sleep deprivation and repetition of similar messages in order to ensure the RAs know what their job is.

    That, to me, is just...petrifying.

  7. I commend your restraint. I don't know that I would have been as diplomatic: I hardly think that they went to much trouble to find an atheist/agnostic. Is there not one secularist on faculty at Purdue?

  8. Veritas, where did you attend college? That's just horrifying.

  9. Nell: I went to St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish NS. I can pretend to be somewhat biased, mind you, because most of the RAs came out loving the experience and I was definitely an outsider. But I have spoken with many who did the same thing.

    It's kinda like the Death Camp of Tolerance episode of South Park.

  10. We have a hard time finding faculty who are willing to be outed as atheists. Even our advisor basically just signs out forms and never comes to meetings.

  11. It was the same for us, most profs don't want the question asked. It might surprise some, but St. Francis Xavier has a strong Catholic tradition.

  12. Sili: I think you meant "patsy". The other is either a flower, or a derogatory term for an effeminate person.

  13. Hi Jen first time comment.
    I must say that at least your school have a Secular club. I ashamed that my school doesn't because KCC would shoot it down so fast. Heck they've shot down other religous groups that wasn't theirs.
    Keep at it. :)

  14. I did, thank you. I should check my idioms more consistently.

  15. In my experience, when students are picked for panels like this they are often based on some relevant person knowing a student in the relevant category rather than necessarily picking someone who would be affiliated with the relevant group in a strong way. When I was an undergrad at Yale, some panels were composed almost completely in this fashion while other panels actually went to the relevant student organizations.

  16. That's not surprising, really. Purdue's RHA are largely religious from what I've seen/heard (When I was applying for an RA position a few years back, I was advised by several people to not mention being in the Society of Non-Theists).

    They're probably ignorant to the groups around Lafayette/West Lafayette and just quickly searched around for someone who fit the bill.

    However, last year in my hall, there supposedly was an atheist RA.