Every year, the Secular Student Alliance gives out awards to the best campus atheist groups in the country in a variety of areas.
The winning groups each receive $300 in funding; the Best Overall Affiliate receives $500.
Here are this year’s winners:
Best Service Project: Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Their project was to send 11 members of their group along with 19 members of the schools Campus Crusade For Christ group to New Orleans to carry out relief work. Their time in New Orleans was primarily dedicated to gutting damaged houses and building new ones. This included work such as putting up siding, painting exteriors & interiors, laying down flooring, erecting fences, running electrical wiring, installing sheetrock, landscaping, and finally removing moldy drywall and debris.
Chris Calvey of the group says of the trip: “We were able to spend a lot of time interacting with Christian students from all over the country. Many were happy, impressed, or even shocked to find out that we were atheists. After getting to know one another, it became apparent to both sides that it’s possible to put aside our philosophical differences and work together for a greater good. The justifications we come up with for our motivations are irrelevant, what’s important is that we all feel the same urge to help others in need. If we want to improve the image of atheism in this country, I can think of no better way to do it than by volunteering alongside those who might disagree with us the most. Complaining about the misconceptions, stereotyping, and discrimination of nonbelievers is one thing we do very well… actually working to dispel these is another story. I am confident that for everyone we met in New Orleans, our service project will have the effect of positively shaping their opinion about atheism for the rest of their lives.”
Best Website: Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists at the University of California Los Angeles.
Roy Natian of the group said of the website: “The guiding principle behind the site is this: Function, Function, Function. The site has to be easy to use and updated. In planning ahead for BASS future, I wanted to make sure that BASS had a solid infrastructure. By making the site require minimal maintenance, I’m allowing future BASSiers to focus on more important facets of the running of BASS (such as planning educational events). An added benefit of having the site be easily updateable is that the site actually gets updated!”
Best Media Appearance: Guelph Skeptics at the University of Guelph.
They were in the campus newspaper once, then twice. They were in their local city paper, and most impressively, they are hosting their own radio show in Canada. They’re working on getting the show syndicated so they can play is across North America (it already airs in Guelph, in Victoria, BC and Winnipeg, MB).
Katie Kish of the group says: “With our own radio show we’ve had interviews with each of us on it, interviews with our speaker, coverage of our events. Hopefully it’ll all be podcasted soon.”
Best New Affiliate: Rationalists and Freethinkers at the University of Illinois at Chicago:
This group had fallen on hard times and really turned things around. After all but collapsing, they secured new leadership, changed their mission statement, got new officers, and are now an amazing group. This past year they hosted Austin Dacey, Hemant Mehta, and Dan Barker. They held an event titled “Does the Black Church really serve the Black Community” and invited the executive director of the African Americans for Humanism to present. They were mentioned in the CBS piece titled “The Atheist Next Door,” they polled UIC students about their feelings on the presidential candidates and religion, and posted these videos and opinions on YouTube, and they held blood drives throughout the year including the “Give up blood for Lent” and the “Vampire Feast Blood Drive” in October.
Best Overall Affiliate: Tufts Secular Student Association at Tufts University.
Over the last 9 months of the school year they’ve organized a debate with Dan Barker and D’Souza in conjunction with the Harvard University affiliate group, they filmed and put this entire debate on the web. They raised the most money of the Tufts students for the school’s CAUSE dinner (raising $1616) and donated this money to low income families affected by the recent wildfires. They reached out to the community to invite professors from Harvard, Tufts, and UMass to come speak to the group on animal ethics, religion, animal testing, and evolution. The group hosted Rebecca Goldstein who spoke about Secularism and Spinoza. Further involvement in their community included participating in Meetup events with “off-campus” humanist groups in the greater Boston area. They worked with the Harvard group again to arrange for the Pete Stark event. The Tufts SSA placed articles placed in the school paper, and the group’s president, Pat Andriola, was interviewed in the paper. The group’s former president Nina Lee was quoted in the Boston Globe. To survey the demographics of their own campus they conducted surveys of Tufts students and found that 30% of the students described themselves as “non-religious”; they used this to promote their group to students. SSA speakers bureau member Ellery Schempp presented to their group, and they organized a Coming Out as an atheist day on April 13th. With the other groups in the Boston area they co-hosted big Darwin Day event and participated in the Secular Student Activism discussion panel hosted by the Greater Worcester Humanists.
Congratulations to the winners for setting a high bar for future applicants!