The student skeptics organization at MU is getting ready to host its first conference.
It all started this past summer, when MU SASHA (Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists and Agnostics) heard the story of Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, an up-and-coming atheist speaker who first came to the U.S. as a refugee from Iraq.
After hearing his story, they decided to invite him to come speak at MU. Members of MU SASHA began spouting out other speakers they had heard and wanted to speak at the university, as well. Chantelle Moghadam, who does public relations for the group, suggested they host their very own conference.
That conference – called SashaCon – is scheduled for this March 15-16, here in Columbia.
The conference is designed for students to explore skepticism and learn more about MU SASHA.
“It can be hard for students, especially in the Midwest, to be open about their atheism, and we want to provide them a community,” Moghadam said.
Along with Al-Mutar, speakers include Maryam Namazie, a human rights activist; Mark Flinn, a cultural anthropology professor at MU; Greta Christina, a well-known figure in the atheist blogosphere; Hemant Mehta, the face behind the popular Friendly Atheist blog; and Matt Dillahunty, host of the Texas-based TV show The Atheist Experience. (Click here for the full list of speakers.)
Moghadam said each speaker is being pushed to talk about a topic they don’t usually present on at conferences.
“To keep a movement alive and to keep us progressing, we need to introduce new things,” Moghadam said. That means including topics such as human rights, “rather than just religion.”
Al-Mutar has spoken at several conferences before, presenting on topics such as foreign policy. But at SashaCon, he plans to talk about how to be an activist in the secular community through social media and blogs.
He was surprised when Moghadam challenged him to talk about something new. But he said he chose this subject because he thinks that since this conference caters toward a young audience, they will have the energy to spread the word through these means.
But planning for the conference hasn’t come without a few bumps in the road.
After fall semester, the former MU SASHA president, Aaron Underwood, resigned.
MU SASHA member Katie Huddlestonsmith quickly stepped in to fill the presidential role.
“It was very obvious he had thought a lot about this before he came to talk with the officers, because at the time he announced he was resigning he was also like, ‘Alright, Katie you’re the one who has the training for it so if you feel up to it you should take over,’” Huddlestonsmith said.
Huddlestonsmith said she was surprised, but she will continue to be president so that MU SASHA has stability.
The conference is open to everyone. Although there is a Facebook page for the event with a place to RSVP, signing up in advance is not required. Admission is free, and students from other schools and states have plans to attend.
The Kansas City Atheist Coalition and the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri helped with the planning process.
Moghadam said the invitation is open to everyone, whether they are atheists, religious, or somewhere in between.
“It is an atheist conference in that pretty much everyone who’s speaking is atheist, but we want it to be about more than that,” Moghadam said.
- What: A conference for exploring skepticism
- When: 11 a.m. Saturday, March 15 and 4 p.m. Sunday, March 16
- Where: University of Missouri Campus, Columbia, Mo. Leadership Auditorium in the student center on Saturday. Jesse Auditorium on Sunday.
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