Affiliate Group of the Week

Affiliate Group of the Week #3: University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers & Inquirers

November 29, 2012

Our campus groups do great things every day of the week, and rarely get the recognition they deserve. CFI On Campus Affiliate Groups of the Week is a program we've started as a way for groups to get their name out there more publicly and share their successes with the world. Each week, we'll pick a group that's doing fantastic work to highlight.

Up this week is the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers & Inquirers. Stef McGraw, a past CFI On Campus intern and one of the group's officers, agreed to answer some of our questions and share their biggest successes.

Affiliate groups will be featured every Thursday evening. If you know of a group that you'd like to see here, email their info to oncampus@centerforinquiry.net and let us know! We want to hear your great stories. And if your group is not yet affiliated, get on that, would ya?

UNIFI volunteers
UNIFI volunteers to pick up debris after a big storm about 40 minutes from their campus.

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 Stef McGraw. I'm a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, though I'll graduate in the spring of 2014. I was raised Unitarian Universalist where I was encouraged to learn about several different religions, and at some point I just realized I didn't believe in a god.

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?
The group was founded in 2007 by Cody Hashman (a CFI staffer now!) and Nick Covington. Cody initially contacted CFI On Campus for advice on how to get the group started. From there, our group has always had a great relationship with CFI.

What is your group's name? How did you decide on that name?
We're the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers, or UNIFI for short. If I'm not mistaken, I think one factor Cody, our founder, considered was not having "atheist" in the name because of all the negative associations, and another was making the acronym pronounceable. And I'm sure he chose freethinkers AND inquirers to be more inclusive. In a relatively religious place like Iowa, it's probably more useful to have a name that attracts some mere doubters rather than just the people who already identify as freethinkers or atheists.

How many members does your group have? What kinds of events do you hold?
We have about 30 people at our weekly Sunday Brunches, with additional members showing up to larger events like speakers and discussion forums. Besides those three types of events, we put on Out Week, Halloween costume bowling, "Know Your Arguments," Festivus, volunteering, and, the big one—Darwin Week!

As an example, could you share one thing your group accomplished that you're most proud of in the past year?
Darwin Week 2012 was a great accomplishment. Iowa State biologist Clint Kelly, Lawrence Krauss, Jamila Bey, and CFI's Joe Nickell were our headlining speakers for the event. We had a lot of UNI students attend who before had not had much exposure to some of these speakers' views and ideas.

Progressive Picnic was another one of our events. We also celebrated Out Week...we had four days of events that encouraged atheist students to "come out" and show that secular people can create community and be good without a god. We had a blood drive, craft night, dinner in the dining center, the FSM Dinner, and raised $650 for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. 

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 heard about CFI On Campus from getting an email my freshman year about the Leadership Conference. I went, and absolutely loved it. The workshops, talks, conversations, and relationships I made influenced my level of involvement in the movement today. Fast forward to this past summer, and I had the honor of interning with CFI On Campus. I could go on and on talking about how valuable of an experience that was, so I'll just leave it at that :) But for UNIFI specifically, CFI On Campus has always been our go-to place for any sort of advice. Several of our members have contributed to The Course of Reason blog, and CFI On Campus always contributes money to Darwin Week, as well. For the future, we hope to keep attending the Leadership Conference, asking CFI On Campus for group-running suggestions, contributing to the blog, and applying for event grants.

My vision for the secular movement is that campus and community groups will continue to sprout up, and with the assistance of the larger organizations, being non-religious will become more and more socially acceptable. I think stigmas are one of the biggest issues holding us back in size and influence at this point in time.

If you know of a group that you'd like to see featured here, please let us know at oncampus@centerforinquiry.net.

 

About the Author: Sarah Kaiser

Sarah Kaiser's photo

Sarah Kaiser is a field organizer for CFI On Campus. Prior to her work at CFI, she got her start in the freethought movement as the co-founder and president of the Secular Alliance at Indiana University, where she helped organize a nationally recognized atheist bus ad campaign and large campus speaking events. As an atheist, a feminist, and a small part of the universe's way of understanding itself, she is thrilled at the chance to help advance CFI's mission. On Twitter: @sarahebkaiser.

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