Affiliate Group of the Week #12: DePaul Alliance for Free Thought
February 14, 2013
Andrew Tripp, president of the DePaul Alliance for Free Thought (DAFT) and author of Considered Exclamations, did us the honor of answering a few questions about his student group. Next month DAFT is hosting Real World Atheism: A Panel on Godless Activism and Cultural Relevancy featuring Sikivu Hutchinson, Anthony Pinn, Ashley F. Miller, Stephanie Zvan, and Ian Cromwell.
First, please introduce yourself. Where you go to school, graduation year, your background. What’s your “atheist/secular conversion story,” if you have one?
My name is Andrew Tripp, and I’m a philosophy and art history major at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, from where I will be reluctantly graduating in June. I grew up all over the place, but New York City is home, Sunnyside, Queens in particular.
I don’t have a conversion story as such; my parents were nominally Episcopalian at best, and I think went to church more to see their friends than anything. So, for a little while I went to Sunday school, but never really took it seriously. I first started identifying as an atheist when I was about 15, after my older brother made me watch a lot of Eddie Izzard, who I still adore, and read Sam Harris, who I liked then but now have some big issues with.
How did your group get started? What year was it founded? Was there a specific event or incident that motivated you to create the organization?
DAFT was started by myself and a then-DePaul student named Suave Baran, who graduated the year we got the group going, in February of 2010. I came to DePaul knowing that I wanted to start the group, since the whole college thing was a big starting-over period for me after the nightmare that was high school. I sent an e-mail to the Secular Student Alliance asking for materials and help to start the group only to find that Suave and our then advisor, Hank Streeter, already in the process. We found in that process that DePaul requires all student organizations to agree to a code of conduct which includes the proviso that groups will be respectful of the university’s “Catholic and Vincentian nature.” Thanks to the uniquely awful nature of DePaul Student Involvement’s bureaucracy, it took us five months to be approved, as it took that long to get a straight answer to what exactly “Catholic and Vincentian nature” meant. It turns out that DePaul is barely Catholic, because of the Vincentian aspect, and it’s a very progressive place as far as the faculty and student body go, though the administration can be irritatingly conservative sometimes. So, finally, we got going, and there was really no uproar whatsoever.
What is your group’s name? How did you decide on that name?
The group was originally named the DePaul Secular Student Alliance, but while at the 2010 Secular Student Alliance conference, our then president Brandi Stepp, who is one of my best friends in the world and now a Teach for America corps member, decided that name was a bit too formal and perhaps intimidating. So, while not paying attention to talks, we brainstormed a new name, and the moniker “DePaul Alliance for Free Thought” shone through. I will say though, the most often comment I get when we table is a smarmy “you know that DAFT is British slang for silly, right?” Yes, yes we do. We picked it for that reason in part, for the whole Catholic university thing. And despite what a certain group in Denver says, we didn’t steal it from them. It’s been a whole big thing.
How many members does your group have? What kinds of events do you hold?
We have 130 officially registered members, with meetings generally drawing between 15-30 members. We have regular discussion meetings, social events like Secular Social where we get dressed up fancy and generally act fabulous, quarterly speaking events, and we have had fundraising drives for Jumpstart, a group that works with underprivileged children to improve literacy, and, biggest, our upcoming panel on social justice and activism in the atheist community that should be absolutely epic. Our members have also taken part in DePaul’s Take Back the Night march, Occupy Chicago demonstrations, and some of the protests against the NATO summit last May.
As an example, could you share one thing your group accomplished that you’re most proud of in the past year?
In November, we, along with the Northwestern Secular Student Alliance, University of Chicago Secular Alliance, Chicago Skeptics, College of Curiosity, and the Adler Planetarium, hosted Carl Sagan Day, the second annual event of its kind in Chicago. We had three speakers, including Dr. Peter Vandevoort, a former colleague of Sagan’s, as well as Dr. Angela Olinto, chair of the University of Chicago’s Astrophysics Department, and last but not least Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchantz of DePaul’s STEM Studies Department. All three were fabulous and talked about a wide range of topics and we had a huge crowd in attendance. It was by far the most ambitious and successful event we’ve ever undertaken, and it was a great experience.
How did you hear about CFI On Campus? How have you worked with CFI On Campus in the past, and how do you hope to work with us in the future?
I don’t know exactly when I first heard about CFI on Campus, but we first affiliated last spring when I was working with Debbie Goddard (who, for the record, is one of my favorite people ever) to bring Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson to speak at DePaul. After several snafus, we managed to host the event amidst the chaotic NATO weekend, and it went off brilliantly, standing as our most successful individual event ever. Now, CFI is helping us organize a panel we have entitled “Real World Atheism: Godless Activism and Cultural Relevancy,” featuring Dr. Hutchinson, Dr. Anthony Pinn, Stephanie Zvan, Ashley Miller, and Ian Cromwell, which will be held on March 8th. I hope to work with CFI and Debbie in the future to take over the world. Wink wink nudge nudge.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add? What is your vision for the secular movement?
My vision for the secular movement is one where true skepticism rules. Not just skepticism applied to UFOs and creationism, but to the whole of the human experience. I want every atheist to become aware of just what a broken, unjust world we live in, and become energized to act to fix it. Right now, we are not doing that. We can, though; were we to actually, properly organize with other progressive movements, and work together, we would be formidable. Now, though, organized atheism is, to pardon my French, a rabble, that needs to open its minds a bit. That’s why with DAFT I’ve tried to steer our conversations and events into new territory, holding discussions on privilege and feminism and trans* issues in addition to more traditional issues like intelligent design and rationality, and to bring in lesser-known speakers like Dr. Hutchinson, or ones with very different perspectives on the world that the usual white males of our movement have, like Greta Christina. I would encourage all group leaders and members reading this to do the same, and think about the bigger picture, not just the same old same old.