Monday, June 7, 2010

Goodbye, BASS

This entire past year, I was the president of the Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists, a student group at UCLA.  By now, I'm already done.  I've passed it on to the next president, told him what to do and everything.  I feel a mix of sadness and relief.  In all likelihood, I will never lead a skeptical or atheist organization again.

Being president wasn't really that much work, but it was a lot of stress.  Most of the time, I just came up with objectives and made other people do the work.  But what little work I did made me feel like I had no clue what I was doing.  No one gave me any training.  I attended no leadership workshops.  All I knew for sure was that many other student orgs run much more smoothly than ours.  I'm sure every organization looks smoother when you're not running it, but I'm still convinced that BASS could be doing much better.

I felt like I wasn't ambitious enough.  But at the same time I felt I couldn't be ambitious.  There were many ideas I turned down from the start, because I felt that student motivation was a precious resource, not to be wasted.  I would tell people, "That could be good, but if I tell my officers to set it up, will they ever follow through?  If they do follow through, will anyone participate?"  Many of the ideas I pursued were flops, so I was always pessimistic.

As for benefits... I got a lot of leadership experience.  At least, I think I did.  Most of the concrete things I learned were uselessly specific, like the fact that in some of the rooms at UCLA, the projectors will randomly stop working unless you pay them $109 ahead of time.

That came out a lot more depressing than I meant it to.  I need to say something more cheerful, or I'll discourage the future president.

I really liked the activist cred that the job gave me.  Once I tell someone that I run a skeptical group, they instantly know that this is not a new topic to me.  A lot of people get uncomfortable talking about beliefs, especially personal beliefs.  If I was ever uncomfortable talking about this stuff, then I've long gotten over it, even offline.

Also, basically everyone knows who I am.  I'm one of the "popular" kids, as depicted in countless Disney channel shows, except not even remotely similar.

And when we had successes, they were very satisfying.  I think the biggest successes were our response to Ray Comfort, the Westboro Baptist Church, and hosting Hemant Mehta.  Pretty much every time I've ever blogged about BASS, it was related to some success.  So, you know, keep the selection bias in mind.

With any luck, this will appear in the yearbook. (click for bigger version)
Another success not yet mentioned is that I made sure to train next year's officers.  I don't know everything about running a group, but it is my hope that the leaders of BASS will start to accumulate knowledge each year, rather than having to start at the beginning every time.  I think BASS has a bright future.


Richard Wade said...

I attended two BASS events under your leadership, and I enjoyed both. They were full of energy and good humor, and it was clear that a large part of that spirit was coming from you. I wish you the very best of success at Berkeley, where I hope you do have the time to lend your experience to the local skeptics' group. I also wish the very best for the continuing growth and prosperity of BASS. Job well done!

miller said...

Thank you, Richard. We very much enjoyed your presence too.

Alan said...

When I was in BASS, I was certain it would not survive the departure of its original members. I'm very pleased to see how wrong I was.

stevenluvsabba said...

I think you did great Tristan... you shouldn't beat yourself up! :)
I must admit BASS has been one of my favourite things about UCLA, so thanks for helping to make it so memorable...

DeralterChemiker said...

Was the BASS picture a deliberate attempt to mimic "The Last Supper"---minus one? I guess Judas was gone already. See

miller said...

Yes, it was intended to be The Last Supper, though I don't think the replication is perfect. I think that Bartholomew and James, son of Alphaeus are missing. Also, someone (second from right) decided he'd just stand there looking skeptical instead of posing as one of the disciples.

The photo was a spur of the moment idea, and we happened to be one person short. When we took the picture, we didn't know who was who. Ironically, Judas (third from right) ended up being played by a Jew.