As President of this club, I’ve facilitated and/or attended most of our events this year. I’ve had a chance to have many conversations with attendees on what they thought our group was all about – or what it should be about.
Although this is my first year being involved in organizing Freethinkers’ events (a fact that holds true of all four of the club’s executives), it is my third year as a voice in this small campus community. I’ve seen this group host everything from vitriolic debaters to politely professorial lecturers, and even participate in grassroots activism. Mostly, however, I’ve seen it strive to be a social club for irreligious students seeking other like-minded individuals for discussion on various current-event issues where religion and secularism collide.
On that note, one of the toughest things that the other executives and I have had to deal with is the lack of consistent engagement at our events. Although we’ve seen as many as 45 students out for larger lectures, and as many as 25 for smaller socials, these remain rare highs. We’ve noticed that building a core community of students around which the Freethinkers can grow has been especially tough. Our social events (discussion nights, board games nights, breakfasts, pub nights), which are often most requested by members, could be characterized as being “adequately” attended thus far in the year. We’ve tried alternating days and times, with little success.
There are plenty of reasons for lower engagement. Exams, assignments, and papers are wonderful obstacles to any club involvement. Commuters are less inclined to come to an evening or weekend event. The topics of the presentations themselves may not be of interest. There is an additional issue: the fact that weekly events, with so few organizers (each with their other commitments) devoting time to this club, are simply not feasible.
Personally, I’ve tried to do my best to hold events on a diverse range of topics. For those wondering, so far this year, we’ve discussed deconversion, transhumanism, religion’s facilitation of cooperative morality in developing societies, mentalism and Astrology, circumcision, and even debated the merits of certain sci-fi classics, among other talking points at our socials. We have not had as much a focus on religion (as was requested by members during our icebreaker) and I am currently working to rectify that anomaly.
Some of our “odd programming” can be attributed to the fact that, despite our efforts, we have had trouble collaborating with religiously affiliated groups on campus. As far as collaborating with religious organizations outside of UBC, I can only say that when we’ve invited speakers, they’ve asked for larger honorariums than we can afford. Of course, we have had help from a couple of clubs and departments at UBC, which has in itself brought quite a few students to our group and its activities, yet a problem with continued/consistent engagement remains.
But the execs are not at all about to diminish our drive. Our time means a lot to us, and we put a lot of time into making sure the Freethinkers have meaningful things to offer students. As always, we are working on informative and fun events for the near future (and yes, a few socials will be sprinkled in).
And your input matters. The execs would like to know what you’d like to see from this club. Do you want more lectures? Or debates? What kind of topics would you like to see discussed at these larger events? Are you into smaller discussion groups facilitated by peers? What about our socials – do we need to continue with our regulars or should we change it up? And should this club also participate in activism? What could that look like?
The members of this club aren’t lacking in diversity or identity, and we all have ideas that deserve to be shared, so what can we do to make the UBC Freethinkers more engaging?
This post is simply a request for your opinion on ways to improve the club. You can comment here, email us at email@example.com, or participate in the Facebook poll. If you’d like to get involved more directly and sit in on our exec meetings, please let us know through the club email. All you need to do is give us your thoughts and suggestions – we’ll worry about the rest.