The Course of Reason

American Atheists Conference

April 3, 2013

Julie Mankowski accepts her award from American Atheists.

This past weekend, I had the honor of being awarded the American Atheists Scholarship for having founded the George Washington University Secular Society. The American Atheists conference was extremely rewarding and well done. Many attendees declared it was the best American Atheists conference they had ever been to. This was my first secular conference, so I had nothing to compare it to, but I was quite pleased for a couple of reasons. 

1. The fact that even though it was an American Atheists conference, the collaboration and unity between the wide array of secular groups is evident. For example, CFI had a table out all weekend, along with the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Recovering From Religion, and others. Many speeches talked about how vital collaboration and unity is for our movement. Absolutely all of us need to stick together, even if we disagree on certain things. CFI, the American Humanist Association, the Secular Student Alliance, everyone needs to stay supportive of one another. The more unified we are, the louder our voice is as a movement.

2. The amount of women speakers that were present. There has always been some issues with the fact that the "leaders" of our movement tend to be old, white men. People like CFI's Melody Hensley have sought to change this, as made evident by the Women in Secularism 2 conference that she and CFI–DC are hosting this year. Therefore, I was very pleased with the amount of women who I heard speak, including Greta Christina, Margaret Downey, Jamila Bey, and the winner of the Atheist of the Year Award, Teresa MacBain.

3. The turnout. Although this was my first secular conference, it was quite clear that there was a fantastic turnout. The hotel was "littered with atheists," if you will. We were everywhere, and even better, we made a big presence at almost all of the speeches. Every speech had at least a hundred people, if not more, even though they were technically all optional. We know that non-theists are the fastest growing minority in the country, but what is more exciting is that there are more activists making a presence within this minority.

I will say that I was discouraged by the lack of students at this conference. I am fairly confident that I was the youngest person in attendance. Hemant Mehta and I spoke about it and it is obvious that money is the issue. The conference is expensive, so most students prefer to go to the Secular Student Alliance and CFI On Campus conferences. I understand this, of course, however, I don't want any national organizations to forget that of this fast growing minority, the millennial generation takes up the greatest percentage. This is why I love that CFI has a branch called "CFI on Campus." They are acknowledging how vital my age group is and how we need the most help.

Hemant Mehta gave a great speech that explained that students are the ones who are affected the most because honestly, kids are mean. Our peer groups are extremely fragile. But another important point is that many of us are still dependent on our parents, many of whom would never support our secularism. Some students really need to know that the atheist community is just that: a community. Conferences like this are great at exemplifying that fact. I would encourage organizations like the American Atheists to really push student organizations to fundraise to come to these conferences and make their presence known. There should be more student speakers and more student representation in general. Of course I want American Atheists to make money, but I also want them to continue to teach us and include us in the great things that they do, including these unifying conferences.


About the Author: Julie Mankowski

Julie Mankowski's photo
Julie Mankowski is the president and founder of the George Washington University Secular Society.


#1 Dave Muscato (Guest) on Thursday April 04, 2013 at 7:23am

Hello! Great post. I just wanted to correct a few factual things:

1) You were definitely not the youngest person there! Camp Quest held a mini-session for 8-through-16-year-olds, and there was also babysitting for 0-through-7-year-olds provided by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. We also had quite a few local high-school and college students attend.

2) As far as the expense, the AA con is actually cheaper for students ($30) than both the SSA con ($39) and the CFI con ($49). We do not provide housing, though, so if you take hotel costs into account, it can be expensive. That said, we will definitely take your comments into consideration.

Thanks for your article!

Dave Muscato
Public Relations Director, American Atheists

#2 Cody Hashman on Thursday April 04, 2013 at 9:07am

Hi there Dave!

As a point of clarification the $49 charge is for our Los Angeles conference only. As another point, we are hosting a second leadership conference that will cost students ~$99 which includes lodging and food for 3 days, a conference t-shirt, and registration.

We understand that the $99 cost may seem like more, but as we both know registration is not the only cost to students at conferences.

#3 Dave Muscato (Guest) on Thursday April 04, 2013 at 9:23am

Thank you for the clarification!




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