Affiliate Group of the Week

Affiliate Group of the Week #4: Illini Secular Student Alliance

December 7, 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 was started to help 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 Illini Secular Student Alliance. Rebecca Tippens, the group's vice president, 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 us and let us know! We want to hear your great stories. And if your group is not yet affiliated, get on that, would ya? 

ISSA volunteers
ISSA officers at a documentary screening they hosted this semester.

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 Rebecca Tippens, and I'm Vice President of the Illini Secular Student Alliance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I'm a student of physics, and I'm all set to graduate this coming year.

I was raised Evangelical Christian, but I always had my doubts. It wasn't until someone close to me died of cancer in my early adolescence that I lost my faith completely. I was in limbo (no pun intended) for a while after that. I called myself Unitarian, agnostic, and (worst of all) "spiritual" before eventually taking an introductory philosophy class at the local community college one summer. My professor (who looked suspiciously like Rivers Cuomo and taught karate in his free time) got me into Dawkins and Harris and I was calling myself an atheist in no time.

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?
ISSA was co-founded in early 2007 by Bharath Gudivada and the incomparable Chris Calvey (who's now with Atheists, Humanists & Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison). We were originally called Atheists, Agnostics & Freethinkers, but we changed our name a few years back. I can't speak for Chris and Bharath's exact reasons for founding the group, but I can say that there were/are tens of religious student organizations on this campus. A community for nonreligious students was and continues to be an absolute imperative.

What is your group's name? How did you decide on that name?
The Illini Secular Student Alliance. We're the "Fighting Illini" here at UIUC, so Illini Secular Student Alliance seemed the natural choice when we were looking to align ourselves with the SSA.

How many members does your group have? What kinds of events do you hold?
We have 30-40 people who regularly attend our meetings, but our larger events regularly bring in audiences of a hundred or more. As for the kinds of events we do... Well, everything. This semester we held our usual weekly meetings, recruited a ton of new people with our booth on Quad Day, protested Brother Jed Smock's visit to our campus with a massive game of "Brother Jed Bingo", played a campus-wide game of assassins, put together a huge public screening of the award-winning documentary The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today honoring a local secular activist in cooperation with its writer/director/producer, partook in many carbs at our Flying Spaghetti Monster Dinner, celebrated Blasphemy Day with an evening of comedy by the hilarious Jamie Kilstein and blow-dryer debaptisms on the Quad the next day, took a trip to a local orchard for hayrides and apple-picking, held a Superstition Party on October 13th, volunteered at the local children's science museum twice, did weekly "Hug An Atheist" events to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as a part of the Foundation Beyond Belief's fundraising campaign, organized our own virtual "Light the Night" walk as the culmination of our fundraising efforts, hosted our third bi-annual ISSA Ladies' Night, held a "Cafe Freethought" brunch, went on a pretty wild barcrawl, and roadtripped to Skepticon. This week, we're wrapping things up with a blood drive and a tongue-in-cheek "War on Christmas" Party! So yeah, we do a lot.

As an example, could you share one thing your group accomplished that you're most proud of in the past year?
I personally am most proud of the documentary screening we organized. It was a completely unique event both in the history of our group and in general, and it gave our members a chance to mingle with the larger Champaign-Urbana community. The theater (a refurbished historical theater in our area that's somewhat of a landmark) was absolutely packed, the Q&A afterwards with the writer/director/producer was incredibly productive and interesting, and we actually made a little money in the end which, frankly, doesn't happen very often. Plus, we were celebrating a really wonderful part of our rich local history that just happens to be secular in nature.

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?
We've been working with CFI On Campus for years now, and you guys are the best. You've been instrumental in several of the more ground-breaking events that we've organized, donated quite a few books to our Freethought Library, and consistently acted as an inspiration and invaluable resource to our group. Plus, Debbie Goddard is the greatest person on the planet. I owe her all the hugs.

Do you have anything else you'd like to add? What is your vision for the secular movement? 
I can't think of anything else! I could go on forever in response to that last question, so I'll try to keep it short: I think groups like ours are the future of this movement. We give secularism a good name in our neck of the woods through service work, activism, and a community of really wonderful people that just happen to be non-religious.

If you know of a group that you'd like to see featured here, please let us know at


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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