Affiliate Group of the Week #14: Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists (BASS)
March 7, 2013
This week’s featured Affiliate Group of the Week resides at the University of California Los Angeles and has been a stable beacon of student enlightenment since it’s inception. The Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists, better known as BASS, has had an exceptional existence, holding successful events and bringing in speakers from around the US. We had the pleasure of speaking with current member, Jenny Pohl, about the group.
First, please introduce yourself. Where you go to school, graduation year, your background. What’s your “atheist/secular conversion story,” if you have one?
I’m Jenny Pohl, a fourth year dental student at UCLA, graduating in just a few months. I grew up in the Bay Area in a nominally Christian family. We didn’t go to church except when visiting our grandparents, and I don’t think I ever believed in a god. The first time I remember realizing that I didn’t, I was in the third grade, watching some Sunday morning church show with my older sister (this was back when we only had basic cable!). I mentioned to my sister that I didn’t believe in God, and she told on me! I remember my mom yelling at my dad that he had “turned your daughter into an atheist!” That’s how I learned the word atheist, and didn’t hide my beliefs from any of my peers or adults in my life after that. I had very little trouble as an atheist in a liberal place like the Bay Area. Most of my friends at school turned out to be atheists as well, and my sister and dad now also identify as atheists.
What is your group’s name? How did you decide on that name?
The first quarter we existed we were just The Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists until the first administration figured out our acronym, BASS, that stands for Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists.
How many members does your group have? What kinds of events do you hold?
Normal meetings have 15-25 members: undergrad and graduate students, staff, and members of the public. We have meetings every week, and also special events. Partly inspired by The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, our meetings have regular segments: we start off with introductions where everyone says who they are, but also has to answer a fun, usually skepticism-related question, like telling the group something they used to believe as a kid but now don’t, or who their favorite skeptical celebrity is. Then we have skeptical news, a fact or fiction quiz, and sometimes skepticism 101, where we talk about a basic skeptical topic, like a logical fallacy, pareidolia, or the ideomotor effect. The main portion of the meeting is usually taken by a presentation, either by a group member or an outside speaker, and then if there’s time, we’ll have a discussion. Previous speakers include a UFOlogist from MUFON, Rebecca Watson of SGU, Brian Dunning of Skeptoid, Ross and Carrie of Oh No, Ross and Carrie!, Derek Bartholomaus of the Jenny McCarthy Body Count, a Christian minister, and a philosophy teacher. We also have field trips, like to the scientologists’ museum of psychiatry, or to the creation museum near San Diego. We also have a tradition of celebrating every apocalypse, and will be celebrating before the new pope is named, since the next pope is supposed to be the last, at least according to a 12th century prophecy.
As an example, could you share one thing your group accomplished that you’re most proud of in the past year?
Our group is mostly composed of nice people who just want to get along, which doesn’t attract a whole lot of leader types. We’ve been running our group for years with no one who really wanted to lead, and finally switched over to a new system of group leadership, where no one person is responsible for planning every meeting, which is an achievement in itself.