Affiliate Group of the Week

Affiliate Group of the Week #9: Northwestern University Secular Student Alliance

January 17, 2013

We pick the brains of Kate Donovan, outgoing president of the Northwestern University Secular Student Alliance, on their group's success with Light the Night fundraising and her discovery of the secular movement via blogging.

Up this week is the Northwestern University Secular Student Alliance in Evanston (Chicago), Illinois. Kate Donovan, the group's outgoing president, agreed to answer some of our questions and share their biggest successes.


First, please introduce yourself. Where you go to school, graduation year, your background. What's your "atheist/secular conversion story," if you have one?

I'm Kate Donovan! I'm the outgoing president of the Northwestern Secular Student Alliance, and a third year at NU. I'm a double major in Psychology and Human Development & Psychological Services. I grew up in Texas, but Chicago is more of my kind of weather.

I became a skeptic first—I'd grown up around alternative medicine, particularly homeopathy. The skeptic community led me to the atheist community—all that overlap, you know—and about a year ago I started blogging, which eventually resulted in getting involved in the SSA at Northwestern. Now...I don't know what to describe what I do. I write a lot of things on the internet, but increasingly it's about mental health skepticism, rather than, say, being godless.

How many members does your group have? What kinds of events do you hold?
Our Facebook group has over 150 members, and fifteen to twenty participate regularly in events. Those include teaming up with other activist events, such as Take Back the Night (for which we won best banner!), city-wide partnerships, such as Carl Sagan Day Chicago, and our own speaker events, such as bringing in Hemant Mehta, Ted Cox, and others. 

Hug an Atheist
NUSSA students put on "Hug an Atheist" event.

As an example, could you share one thing your group accomplished that you're most proud of in the past year?
I'm most proud of our fundraising for the Light The Night Walk with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. We had a 'Hug an Atheist' event—and in just a few hours, we raised over a hundred dollars in donations!

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?
So, I actually heard about CFI On Campus as part of my blogging. I contacted Dren Asselmeier about a project I was working on, and she offered me a guest post on this very blog! Later, when I became involved in the SSA on NU's campus, I realized they were affiliated with CFI. Like a lot of my activism, I did it in reverse: blogging before joining a student group, skepticism before atheism. 

Is there anything else you'd like to add? What's your vision for the secular movement?
Ideally, I'd like the secular movement to put ourselves out of business. Activism is best when we work to change the culture enough to make ourselves unnecessary. 

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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