Monday, October 5, 2009

Atheist conventions: Where's the support for young atheists?

Blogs have been on fire about the Atheist Alliance International Convention in California this weekend. Why wouldn't they be? Not only is it a gathering of freethinkers (which is always fun), but they have great speakers like Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Daniel Dennett, Brian Dalton (Mr. Diety), PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Eugenie Scott, Sean Faircloth... It's an atheist celebrity extravaganza. But on top of the delight of meeting someone you highly respect, the convention is also educational and a great way to motivate atheist activists.

So why no attention for the younger atheists?

We are the next generation of atheist activists, after all. And many of us are already busy forming clubs, debating, and blogging, at an age where many of today's movers and shakers of atheism would have still been religious. I'm not saying we're completely ignored by the movement - the Secular Student Alliance is a fabulous organization that works enormously hard to help freethinking students, and even had their own conference. I'm talking about the huge conferences, like AAIC or TAM or the Global Atheist Convention. And I'm mainly talking about monetary support.

Where are the reduced ticket prices for students? I'm fairly well off for a college student since I'm lucky enough to have many scholarships, but I still can't just shell out $200 to $400 dollars for entrance into a convention. I would have to think about if it's worth it for a long time, but for most students it's not even a question. That money is next month's rent or food. That money might not even be in their bank account yet. Would it hurt too much to offer a discounted rate for students? Most likely, these individuals wouldn't be able to come without it, so you would be making a profit with their attendance.

Or looking at the model of other academic conferences, why stop there? The only reason I was able to attend Evolution 09 in Idaho and the American Society of Mammalogist meetings in Alaska was because I won awards that funded my trip. For Evolution, NSF actually sponsored the program, and I had my plane ticket, room and board, conference costs, and food entirely paid for. For ASM, they offered their own award that covered my plane ticket (the biggest cost when going to Alaska). Both were on the stipulation that I present my research.

I understand that the economy isn't at its best right now, especially for a relatively small movement like atheism... but there have to be donors or organizations somewhere that could pay for part of a plane or conference ticket. Make it highly competitive and so the future leaders of the atheist movement can apply. Make it 25 and younger to narrow it down. Make them contribute - tell us what talk you'd like to give at the convention, send a video of it, do something to prove you're a good speaker and you have a great story to tell. A younger atheist may not be famous like Richard Dawkins, but that doesn't mean they don't have something interesting to say. I think the movement can benefit from hearing the voice of a different generation.

PZ said it himself: "Along similar lines, I'm seeing more young people and more women in attendance; not enough of either, but still a good sign of a healthy, growing movement."

Trust me, there are plenty of us who'd love to come - we just don't have the money for the admission price, let alone the travel costs. Give us a little help, atheist organizations!

18 comments:

  1. Good thought. Hopefully, Jen, when you're all PhD and stuff and you're one of the leaders, you remember this post.

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  2. PhDs don't have any money! Actually, maybe that's the problem...

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  3. I'm sure the profits of Blaghag: The Book will allow you to fly at least one prospective atheist leader out from a small college.

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  4. Bookhag: Adventures of a Liberal Atheist in the Midwest?

    Argh, you know, it's really terrible, I always feel like a douche when I write out "blaghag".

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  5. It made me laugh Veritas...

    I totally agree Jen, even though I am not in school anymore (thinking really hard about going back though), it is still hard to go to all these things. It is not just the convention cost but the travel costs also. At least with TAM they give a discount for students and do have scholarships. Also TAM gets a reduced Hotel cost, it is all very expensive still (well worth it at least once though).

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  6. TAM's reduced student tickets are still 300ish dollars. Still waaay to much for me.

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  7. Yeah that was the ultimate reason I couldn't attend. Plane, Hotel, and a 300 dollar ticket was WAY to much for me. I have student loans to pay.

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  8. Veritas wrote: "I always feel like a douche when I write out 'blaghag'."

    I didn't know anybody ever felt "like a douche". I just thought it was something women used out of necessity... ;)

    Joe Agnost

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  9. I said it was all very expensive still...

    If you get a chance go.

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  10. Could not agree more. One of the very best talks came from Brian Parra of Atheists United about growing the movement and reaching out to other groups, as well as from Brother Richard of Atheist Nexus -- both of these talks were very youth-centric or at least emphasized youth, and were *both* not only at the tail end of the conference, but *after the "closing ceremony"*!

    Luckily I was there to cover it. Stay tuned for that. :)

    (and for further blog whoring, you can see more of my AAI coverage here: http://www.examiner.com/x-4275-secularism-examiner)

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  11. There were student tickets at a reduce rate... but the reduced rate was still really high.

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  12. That is the problem when the reduced rate only saves you 20 dollars it is not enough. As you say jen, we don't have that money, to just splurge out on an event like this. A lot of procrastination goes into the decision.

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  13. the offical website says there is a $149 student weekend pass. still pretty pricey though...

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  14. I completely agree. I got myself really excited with the prospect of going to TAM earlier this year, and was really disappointed when I realized I couldn't afford it at all.

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  15. I was planning on attending AAI (I live in LA, so travel expenses weren't an issue), but they sold out of the student discount passes. They never indicated on the website that there was a possibility of them selling out and I waited until the day before to try and get them. A little frustrating, and they were still $150, anyways! I guess it's encouraging that they sold out of the student passes.

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  16. Jen, I resent your 25yr old age limit :p

    I just turned 27, I'm back in school, currently unemployed and am the Co-founder / VP of IPFW's new group... where's the love for an old sophomore?? ;)

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  17. "Give us a little help, atheist organizations!"

    Yes, please! A little help would be great!

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