The Course of Reason

Atheist Posters Torn to Pieces on Liberal College Campus

January 23, 2013

One of my reasons for selecting the George Washington University as my college institution was because of its strong, passionate presence in politics. More specifically, the College Democrats group at GWU is one of the largest in the country. Sure enough, in my first two years here on campus, the liberal presence becomes more and more evident with each and every class that I take as liberal voices are proven to be the loudest and strongest amongst the student body.

But I am constantly reminded of the dangers of generalizing a population of people in this way. When the Executive Board of GWSS plans an activity, the discussion always comes up about potential backlash and controversy. Ultimately, the ending result of the discussion is almost always, “Look guys, it’s GW” which can essentially be translated and inferred as meaning “This school is too liberal to be prejudiced towards minorities like nonbelievers.”

I am sad to say that we overestimated our student body this time.

If you are a religious follower (pun intended) of Hemant Mehta’s, “The Friendly Atheist” blog, you may have heard about GWSS’s awareness campaign which we called, “This is what an atheist looks like.” Towards the end of last semester, GWSS collected beautiful, smiling headshots of about a dozen of our members and put them on flyers that simply said, “This is what an atheist looks like” followed by a statistic about the growth of non-belief.


Once all of the headshots were done and all of the flyers were created and printed, we set a date to hang them up all around our campus on the 18th of January as a kickoff for the spring semester.

Today is the 22nd of January (as I write this) and about half of them have already “mysteriously” gone missing. Some evidence demonstrates where a few of the flyers have gone. For example, in a dorm building, there appear to be ripped sheets of paper below an original hanging spot. Another still has half of it remaining, shown in the picture below.

More frequently, they just appear to be gone altogether.

There has also been a cyber backlash to these flyers. Social networking sites have been a more public medium for disgruntled GW students to display their discontent.


Although our group has discussed the possibility of such a response, I will admit it has happened at a more alarming rate than I had originally expected. I have not seen who has been taking them down. I do not know if it is one individual who has been taking them down as he or she sees them, or if it has been random individuals on separate occasions. Even if I did witness the offense, I would not know if that individual is conservative or liberal on first glance, so perhaps my opening sentiment about GW was not entirely fair.

My point really was that even in an open-minded and supposedly liberal environment, the prejudices towards atheism are more prominent than we realize. While college students are proven to be the most open minded demographic in the country, we still see incidents of obvious distaste for people without religious beliefs.

The fact that someone had the mental cognition and thought process to disdainfully tear a flyer into pieces bothers me immensely. GWSS is contemplating what the best course of action for our future at GW is, but the general point is quite clear: We have a lot of work to do.




About the Author: Julie Mankowski

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


#1 KelleyRene (Guest) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 at 6:12pm

Keep up the good fight Julie. I suspect the person or people who tore down your group's postings are more terrified than malicious. They are not open-minded enough to be comfortable with anything outside of their own little worlds. I get angry when things like this happen and then I remember that the more appropriate reaction is pity. I agree with you though. It IS disappointing that this happened at GW of all places, but it only takes one or two people who are driven by fear to work up the energy to run around campus destroying that which is making them cringe. I went to a pretty liberal college too. The posting of something trying to emphasize the humanness of atheists at my school would have been met with a similar reaction. But that was 30 years ago. It is sad to see that we haven't become more open minded and tolerant of someone who has beliefs that are different from our own. Keep doing what you are doing. I, for one, appreciate it!

#2 jemankowski on Wednesday January 23, 2013 at 8:51pm

Thanks, Kelley, for your inspiring words! They were much needed! <3

#3 SimonSays on Thursday January 24, 2013 at 8:10am

Keep up the good work Julie! I coordinate events for the local CFI branch and a couple of years back one of our volunteers was passing out flyers to promote our upcoming event at GW Lisner auditorium (whose staff is excellent I might add) and some passersby came by and struck the flyers from her hands and then left hurriedly. There was also some snide comment that accompanied the encounter. Needless to say she was a bit shook up and the incident was reported to GW police (though nothing came of it).




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