CFI On Campus: 2012 Spring Review

May 30, 2012

It is surely no surprise to you that Council for Secular Humanism, Center for Inquiry, and The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, have been busy this spring. Many of our groups have participated in Reason Rally, regional events, and annual conferences, all on top of our normal operations. You may not know, however, the extent to which we have been a part of these events and how our presence made an impact in countless communities across the country in just the first part of this year so far. Here is a summary of those events.

The Council for Secular Humanism and Center for Inquiry came together in Orlando for the Moving Secularism Forward conference this March. Daniel Dennett, Jessica Ahlquist, Sikivu Hutchinson, PZ Myers, Elisabeth Cornwell, and other fantastic speakers came together to talk about the future of secularism in the U.S. and around the world. Rita Swan spoke about the tragic connection she had with Christian Science and their neglect to give medical help to sick children. She fired us up for doing real activism that can save innocent lives when religious exemptions are not allowed. Jessica Ahlquist updated everyone on the lawsuit with her school district regarding the unconstitutional prayer banner that the school eventually removed. Eddie Tabash gave an impassioned talk about the future of secularism in connection with legislation in the United States. There were too many great speakers to summarize here, but the outcome was that the attendees were able to ponder these important topics, speak with each other and the presenters, and share their perspectives in Orlando. I was also extremely happy to see so many students in attendance. Getting young people involved ensures the future of our causes and allows for a way to convey our wisdom and experiences with activism and grassroots organizing.

Next, we went to Washington, D.C. for the Reason Rally. I imagine it does not need a summary because there was so much press, so many articles and pictures, and so many of you were there. The Reason Rally was the best way to really kick off the year and get excited for what the Center for Inquiry does because we had a chance to yet again meet so many people that we usually only see through the internet. There were a lot of hugs and high-fives in the information tent as several thousand people filed through all day to get to know more about all of our organizations. We gave away everything, explained everything, and gave a warm welcome to everyone. It could not have gone better, regardless of the weather. That is surely an experience that we will all carry with us as we continue driving science, reason, and secular values forward into the future. after Reason Rally, CFI On Campus staff went to the American Atheists National Convention to run an information table and be a part of the wrap-up for the life-changing weekend. We again were able to show support for our allied organizations, and to spread our message to more students and supporters. Neither of us was able to sit in on talks because we were busy running the table and alternately taking much-needed naps, but the audience was enthusiastic and plentiful, with a lot of compliments to American Atheists for their event.

Just a few days after Reason Rally, I took a solo trip to North Carolina to help out with a Dawkins event at Duke University in in Durham. The first thing I noticed was that North Carolina is beautiful and far greener than I imagined. The second thing I noticed is that the people I met around the Raleigh-Durham area are friendly and receptive to secularism. I staffed an information table at the Duke University event and introduced countless people to the missions of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science as well as the mission of the Center for Inquiry. I was surprised by the large number of faculty that told me how happy they were to have Dawkins speak at the university. Students were also elated to know that our organizations care about them, have a presence in North Carolina, and can help them with grassroots organizing. It was a positive experience for everyone, and though I wasn’t able to listen to the talk, I heard tons of great feedback and compliments for the content that Dawkins discussed, as well as the overall pleasant organization of the event thanks to RDFRS and Duke University staff.

Immediately following that, Ed Beck, the education coordinator, joined me at the historic Rock Beyond Belief concert at Fort Bragg, NC. It was only one week after Reason Rally, but the turnout was still good. Plus, the military individuals and families were extremely appreciative of the support they received from the secular community. We met people who came from as far as Vermont and Arizona! The staff on base, though I’m sure not all of them supported the message behind Rock Beyond Belief, was all helpful and respectful. The performances were seamless with Ed Brayton at the helm as emcee. I know Todd Stiefel worked hard to gather the musicians and performers and to create the day of fun and solidarity for everyone, too. There were not many students at Rock Beyond Belief, but I was happy to be a part of this event and to staff the CFI table in order to make connections with the underserved military population as well as the somewhat isolated secular population in this region.

Again, just days after these events, the Center for Inquiry Institute happened in Pittsburgh. The speakers included John Shook, Barry Kosmin, and Debbie Goddard, along with a student panel that discussed the issues that secular groups face attempting to organize on religious campuses. The event was co-sponsored by the Pitt Secular Alliance and the School of Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh and was created to tackle controversies surrounding student group organizing on religious campuses, and the role of student groups in the greater secular community. The event went well thanks to the sponsoring organizations and to the CFI Education program, and I hope that we can have more student-centered discussions in the future.

That’s not all! These events all happened in March and the first few days of April, but later in April we also were represented at the Northeastern Conference for Science and Skepticism (NECSS-pronounced “nexus”) in New York City. The conference brought together some of the coolest and most thoughtful scientists and skeptics in the country. It was certainly well attended and even sold out of tickets for Saturday sessions. Center for Inquiry and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry were proud to be major sponsors, and it gave us a chance to introduce Skeptical Inquirer magazine as well as the CFI mission to a surprising number of people who had not heard of us. It can be humbling to realize that there are people in the secular and skeptical communities who have not heard of our organizations, but it is not a negative thing to me because it gives me a chance to get fresh perspectives from people and to let them know that we exist for them. I met so many amazing people from all over the country, and students from the Atheist Student Alliance at Rutgers, Bronx Community College Secular Humanist Club, and other impressive groups in the region. It was invigorating to be a part of the action at NECSS, and I look forward to attending again next year.

Finally, we entered May and prepared for the Women in Secularism conference. I cannot accurately describe how monumental this conference was. Women and men came together to discuss things that have never before been the main topics at an event like this. It seemed as though everyone breathed a sigh of relief Saturday night at the reception as we listened to Ron Lindsay, Melody Hensley, and Lauren Becker give opening remarks and set the welcoming tone for the event. We knew that nothing would be off-limits. Nothing would remain unsaid, and no one would be silenced. The only problem is that there was still so much to say after two days of talks. None of us guessed that the audience would be so involved, so considerate, and so meticulous in their input and feedback. We had no idea that there would still be so much to say. There has been talk of when we are going to do this conference again, and I hope that we can have more conferences in the future that focus on women, minorities, and traditionally unconsidered people and topics that intersect secularism and skepticism.

Besides these events, CFI On Campus also sent Debbie Goddard to speak at on a panel about “Freethought in Black History and Culture” with the Bronx Community College Secular Humanist Club in New York City, and she went to visit the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at University of Wisconsin-Madison to give her talk “Diversity in the Atheist Movement.” We are proud to have such established and active student group affiliates and that they ask us to speak at their events!

I would like to extend a massive thank-you to our supporters, speakers, donors, attendees, and allies. This year has already been monumental. We have learned so much from our involvement, and we have continued making connections with the individuals and organizations are helping us to change the world. The kickoff of our summer events will be the CFI Leadership Conference June 21-24 in Amherst, NY. Back to work!


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