Thanks to Our 2015 UNIFI Graduates

Every fall, UNIFI welcomes new members to our group, and every spring we celebrate our graduates. All of these people have been wonderful to UNIFI and we wish them a happy and bright future! I’ve interviewed some of our graduates, hear what they have to say:

Margaret Nervig
M.A. History: Public History
UNIFI Director of Membership 2013-2014
UNIFI Alumni Coordinator 2014-15

What are you doing after you graduate?
This summer I’m going to be working as a historical interpreter at Living History Farms in Des Moines. Come visit! Don’t worry, I do have some plans in the works for after summer, but I don’t want to be too hasty in announcing them just yet.

What has UNIFI meant to you?
UNIFI has been important to me for gaining confidence in my own ideas and beliefs but also for learning how to consider other’s ideas and beliefs. I find myself taking more time to form opinions on things and trying to consider different angles. UNIFI has also been where I’ve found some of my best friends in college; my experience at UNI would’ve been completely different without it.

What was your favorite UNIFI event?
I distinctly remember a Know Your Arguments event that was led by former president Cory Derringer on evolution. He essentially talked about common arguments against evolution and how to counter them. I think it was one of my first “educational” UNIFI events and it seriously blew my mind. Prior to coming to UNI, I didn’t really know that there were people out there who didn’t believe in evolution, so this type of event was super impactful.

What advice would you give to college students or new members?
This is what everyone says but GET INVOLVED. It’s so important to join student organizations, so you can meet people with common interests and get the most out of your college experience. I honestly regret not joining UNIFI earlier in my time at UNI.

B.A. in Music
UNIFI Director of Outreach 2012-13
UNIFI Vice President 2013-15

What are you doing after you graduate?
I am moving to Austin, TX to work with a program called A Community for Education (ACE). I will be in a Title 1 school working with students K-2 in aspects of literacy.

What was your favorite UNIFI event?
Darwin Week, no contest. It’s so exciting! So busy, but fulfilling. <3 <3 <3

Who was your favorite Darwin Week speaker?
GOSH, I have more than one. My freshman year (2012) I went to the keynote on Valentine’s Day – his talk was about spiny penises. It was so interesting!
Last year, 2014, I really enjoyed listening to Nate Phelps talk about his transition from life in the founding family of the Westboro Baptist Church to an activist for the kinds of things we (UNIFI) identify with.
This year it’s hard to say. I had the privilege of talking with each of the keynote speakers for a decent amount of time. They were large in variety…but my favorite was probably the first keynote, Dr. Kurilla.

What is your favorite UNIFI memory?
I liked when Adam Shannon put a lampshade on his head and danced around at the Iowa St. house. I also liked hanging with keynotes after their Darwin Week talks. Cleaning out the UNIFI office with Stef McGraw the summer that the SIAC remodeled. Looking in the nostalgia box. Good Friday Nights ’12, ’13, and soccer at ’14 the grad cookout.

B.A. in Biology

What was your favorite UNIFI event?
My favorite UNIFI events were always the Darwin Week speakers. I didn’t always get to make it to every speaker every year, but those I did make it to were always phenomenal whether they were discussing science, religion, or anything outside or in between.

Who was your favorite Darwin Week speaker?
My favorite speaker has to be Nate Phelps. We all know what the Westboro Baptist Church is, but to hear a firsthand account of someone who ultimately escaped the church was amazing and eye-opening. I have the utmost respect for Phelps and his journey to leave behind a life of hatred. If you ever get the opportunity to hear him speak, I would wholeheartedly recommend it.

What’s your favorite UNIFI memory?
My favorite memories from my UNIFI days would have to be the brunches. They are a great way to get the whole group involved and introduced. I met so many friends that I might have never interacted with otherwise. Not to mention the intelligent (or not) discussions were often hilarious and always enlightening!

What’s the most valuable thing that you’ve learned from UNIFI or UNI?
The most valuable thing that I learned from both UNIFI and my time here at UNI is to not sit on the sidelines. Be active and engaged in all that you do whether its classes, activities, or otherwise. There are so many wonderful opportunities presented through UNIFI and other groups on campus, don’t let them pass you by!

B.A in Psychology, Theatre minor

What are you doing after you graduate?
I’m moving to Seattle, but beyond that I don’t have much planned. I’m not sure if I want to go to grad school yet so the plan is to work for a couple years and pay down my student loans while experiencing life in a different part of the country

What has UNIFI meant to you?
A group of friends I could always come back to. I’ve been extremely busy the past couple years, but even when I couldn’t make it to many events, every time I came back everyone was welcoming and ready to discuss things with me.

What was your favorite UNIFI event?
Festivus is always fun, getting dressed up in my ugliest sweater and playing games with everyone

What’s the most valuable thing that you’ve learned from UNIFI or UNI?
UNI and UNIFI in combination really helped me learn to step back and examine the beliefs that I hold.

B.M. in Voice Performance

What are you going to do after you graduate?
After I graduate from UNI, I plan on returning in the Fall to begin graduate school for a Masters of Music degree in vocal performance.

What do you want to do with your degree?
I would love to move to a city and have my own private voice studio and teach opera and musical theatre workshops and master classes for young people. I would also like to sample the audition scene and try to make a career in performing.

Who was your favorite Darwin Week speaker?
My favorite speaker (I think?) was probably the Elizabeth Lloyd’s talk last year about the female orgasm… if I am remembering properly, the house was packed and there were so many interesting questions afterward.

What advice would you give to college students and new members?
I would tell people to not be afraid to explore and try new things. I certainly wouldn’t have shaped my views and become the person, I am had I not explored different opportunities and been eager to engage in discussion.

XANDER IS PRETTYAlexander Newkirk
B.A. in History

What do you want to do with your degree?
I choose History because I love the field, I love studying history and exploring new concepts. I choose history because it helps me think critically about the world around me, not because it pays the best. When I graduate I would like to teach some day, or work on public policy.

What was your favorite UNIFI event?
Darwin week by far. Amazing speakers and wonderful atmosphere every year.

What advice would you give to college students and new members?
Be open to new things, and try everything this a place and time when you should be experimenting. Have fun and enjoy yourself, don’t worry about what others think, it sounds cheesy, but just be you. College is in many ways, about finding yourself, and fine tuning the person you want to be.

What is the most valuable thing that you’ve learned from UNIFI or UNI?
Critical thought is important. It’s also important to not grow stagnate in your beliefs or ideas. When I say experimentation I don’t just mean with drugs, or people. I truly mean ideas and different perspectives. Not just for the sake of “I’m being diverse” but an actual attempt at understanding the world. Beyond just being an Atheist, Liberal, Libertarian, conservative or a Christian. Understanding the world and our place in it as human beings. It was through my time at UNI that I learned to try and accomplish this, and that is the most valuable thing I have learned and continue and try to learn every day.

Introducing the 2015-2016 Officer Team

I am pleased to introduce to you all to the officer team for this upcoming year. Each of these individuals has amazing potential and I cannot wait to see everything that they accomplish. I am very much looking forward to working with them to make UNIFI the best it can be. That said, our team is as follows:

Oliverio Covarrubias, Director of Finance

OliverOliverio is a first year student at UNI, and he is excited to start his second year with this organization. He is a psychology major (for now) who likes long walks on the beach, stargazing, Mexican liberation, cats, and the occasional bout of writing. When he isn’t in UNIFI, he’s the Director of Administration for the Hispanic-Latino Student Union at UNI. He can’t wait to be involved next semester.

Heather Applegate, Director of Activities

11121896_10152736261446332_1278879632_nHeather Applegate is a junior transfer student majoring in Sociology with a minor in International Affairs. She is also an NISG Senator for the College of Social Behavioral Sciences. In addition to UNIFI and NISG, Heather is a member of UNI RISE. Outside of UNIFI, NISG, and RISE, she enjoys road trips and tending to her garden. She is looking forward to stepping into the position of Director of Activities

Neill Goltz, Director of Membership

unnamed (2)​Neill Goltz is incredibly excited to take on the role of Director of Membership for his final year at UNI. He is especially excited to get to know all the new and returning members and hear what their vision for the future of UNIFI will be. Get excited for the 2015-2016 school year!

Jesse Moeller, Director of Public Relations

unnamed (1)Jesse Moeller is a returning officer who has previously served as Director of Finance and Director of Activities. He is eager to begin his position as Director of Public Relations. Jesse is a graduate student at UNI studying pure mathematics and 2015-2016 will be his final year at UNI. Besides activities in UNIFI, Jesse is the current president of Math Club and a member of the UNI Varsity Men’s Glee Club. He is preparing to teach mathematics to bright, yet underprivileged, urban high school students over the summer

Abbie Shew, Vice President of Darwin Week

Abbie Shew, Director of FinanceAbbie is a returning UNIFI officer, last year she served as the Director of Finance and was previously the Director of Public Relations. She is ecstatic about stepping into the newly created role Vice President of Darwin Week. Abbie is currently a junior double major in biology and philosophy with a minor in chemistry. In addition to UNIFI, Abbie is heavily involved with the UNI debate team as a varsity policy debater and team captain. She also was recently confirmed as the NISG Director of Administration and Finance. She can’t wait to get to know the new officers and see what they can accomplish this year.

Laurelin Berkley, Alumni Coordinator

unnamedLaurelin is a sophomore Choral Music Education student at UNI. Last year, she served as Director of Membership for UNIFI and loved it. In addition to UNIFI, Laurelin has been involved with UNI Students Together for the Advancement of Reproductive Rights and the UNI Choirs for the past two years. She is looking forward to another great year with UNIFI!

Cassie Beadle, Graphic Designer

10696302_10203670373093740_6781051588034849285_nCassie is finishing up her sophomore year as a Graphic Design major and is super excited to be involved in UNIFI again this year! Though it seems she spends every waking minute in one of the Adobe programs designing, when she has free time she enjoys her KULT radio show with Natalie, drawing, playing guitar, and binge watching show on Netflix.

Nobody Asked Mary

We are no strangers to the misogynistic tendencies of the Bible, but a Salon article written around Christmas sparked my interest in a more specific issue in religion – the issue of rape by Gods or demi-gods. It references stories like Shiva’s impregnation of Madhura, Jupiter’s kidnapping of Europa, and the Virgin Mary’s mothering of Jesus.

I am most familiar with the last of these, having grown up in a Christian household and community, so I will focus on it in the following points. It will probably also be the most debated in the reading of this blog post, as was the case in the comments section of the article linked above.

This article raises a few uncomfortable questions –

Can we accuse a god of something as horrible as rape? The answer, of course, is yes. But should we? What makes this worse is that I have no issue condemning gods from Greek mythology, but once it comes to the God, regardless of specific religion, I am hesitant. Surely this is a result of my close relationship with Christianity. But believers excuse God for multiple horrific actions – the great flood, the entire book of Job, the ten plagues. This should be no different.

Does cultural relativism excuse the actions of these gods? The author points out that these stories are from the Iron Age, when women were nothing more than property. In this context, consent was irrelevant. However, to avoid the question of consent, we need to widely acknowledge that if such a story happened today, it would be a crime. We should not excuse these gods of their actions even if they were regarded as holy at one time, especially if we are considering them ‘all-knowing’.

Did Mary consent? If we look more closely at the story of Mary and the immaculate conception, we find that scripture is vague on these points. She is held in such high regard because of, as I understand it, her purity and willingness to carry and mother Jesus. But when an angel came to tell her she was going to conceive, he did just that — told her. She may have been happy to do so, but a ‘please’ might have been nice. Imagine what would have happened if she refused.

If the victim said ‘yes’, was it consensual even though there was a clear inequality of power in the relationship? No.

Were these women ‘asking for it’? No. The author touches on a ‘biology hypothesis’, that claims that these concepts relate to the ‘survival of the fittest’. These Gods provide half of a high-quality baby and this should be appealing to the females that are chosen to carry and mother them. The article points out that this ‘gift to women’ idea exists in some men today, and should not be allowed as a reason to force sex (or pregnancy) on anyone.

Is it rape? Though it feels dirty to qualify this, I thought it would be silly to leave it out. As of January 2013, the FBI uses the following definition: “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or
anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

This opens the door to so many definition questions that will not be discussed in this post (penetration, for example, from the Holy Spirit). The bottom line is that consent was not sought out in these cases, and an omission that should not be praised.

Should I Apply for an Officer Position?

Hello everybody, my name is Natalie Kaufman and I will be your Vice President next year in this organization. You’ve probably seen me around at brunches and events, and I am lucky enough to call many of you my close friends. As we have only a few days left until we begin interviewing applicants for next year’s UNIFI Officer Team, I thought I would write a post about why you should apply.

I’ll start this post with my own personal story. As somebody who grew up in a very Christian household with a very inquisitive mind, I have, since a young age, found myself questioning religion and other matters. I struggled through high school coming to terms with a lot of my beliefs and often felt shamed by others. I am in no way comparing my own feelings or minimizing the feelings of those that are shamed for matters such as race or sexual orientation, but it was very hard for me to accept who I was. When I came to college, UNIFI stood out to me. The name itself means a lot to me, “UNIFI”. UNIFI unified me with other members who also felt shamed and wished to question openly without judgment. UNIFI was a group of loving, caring, intellectuals who all felt more or less the same way that I did. This group provided me help and shelter from the madness that was my life. I found my niche and I never wanted to leave. Everyday I learn more and more, thanks to UNIFI.

The first year that I joined UNIFI, I looked for every opportunity to excel. I went to all of the events and tried to learn as much as I could. Even though I was very apprehensive, at the end of the year I decided to apply for an officer position.  I was so incredibly nervous that I could not possibly meet all of the requirements and surely there had to be someone better. I remember looking at the daunting application and closing it several times before finally sitting down and going through it, questioning why this was such a big deal. I remember sitting in the conference room on the top  floor of the Union having my officer interview with Stef, Friel, and Kate and nervously tapping my fingernails the whole time. I didn’t think that I knew enough or was qualified enough to be an officer. I looked at this group and saw how organized it was and how much more smarter everybody else was than me. I felt like I couldn’t perform to the standards that were set by UNIFI. But I took a deep breath, and I did it anyways. And I’m so incredibly glad that I did, because I have learned so much this past year serving as the Director of Public Relations.

The doubts and fears that I had about applying were nullified. I wish everybody would apply. The fears that I had in my interview were washed away when I heard Stef, Kate, and Friel talk with such kindness. I could tell how much they cared for UNIFI and how they wanted to leave the group in good hands. They saw potential in me, just like I see potential in so many of you. Throughout this year, I have learned time management skills, organizational skills, conflict resolution tools, how to work well with others, the list goes on. I look back at all of the fears that I had about applying and I want to gently slap myself in the face. I was nervous for no good reason and I freaked myself out for no reason. UNIFI is a very unique group, but it turns out that I had been equipped to handle this group from the get-go,  no matter what else I thought.

UNIFI is a group on campus that really stands out from the rest. It is a very well structured organization, that runs very well according to its ways. The officer team works tirelessly putting on events, sifting through emails, creating Google Doc after Google Doc. All of these help make UNIFI the amazing group that it is. Not many groups on campus have the caliber to pull off the events we do, such as Out Week and Darwin Week, and have the amount of members that we do. And the fact that there is an application and interview process for officers instead of a tradition democracy can also be seen as daunting. This done simply as a way to ensure that UNIFI keeps being the amazing and strong student group that it is. UNIFI is a unique group in that it is a safe haven for those that are questioning and also a stepping stone to help change the way you think and reason. Being a UNIFI officer can be demanding at times, but honestly, what leadership role can’t be?

The caliber of excellence UNIFI sets for itself is a combination of both the officers that run the group as well as the wonderful members that compose it. I strongly encourage each and every single one of you to apply for an officer position. Don’t let your doubts, fears, and apprehension stand in your way. Friel is an excellent judge of character and both of us are blessed with the ability to see amazing things in people. We see the potential you all have and we would love to see you become all that you can be. Becoming a UNIFI officer helped me do so much and learn countless things about myself and the way I work. I gained experience and friendship. I am so honored to be a part of this amazing student group and hope that you apply so you too can feel the way I am feeling right now as I type this post.  I encourage you all to apply for an officer position because I guarantee you will not regret it. Plus, wouldn’t this look great on your resume?

On Exclusionary Dynamics in UNIFI

Hello, this is your UNIFI blog editor Alex Prinsen. The following piece was written by a former UNIFI officer who wishes to remain anonymous for personal and professional reasons. It regards the author’s experiences with fellow officers conduct and its  effect on potential members. While the events described took place in the past, the commentary is, I believe, still very relevant today.

It is likely an understatement to say UNIFI has a definite in group. I have also witnessed some of this behavior, and while my perception may be different, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how a new member could interpret UNIFI’s culture as exclusionary. I want to emphasize that the examples given purportedly alienated potential members enough to cause them to avoid future interactions with UNIFI. So maybe those potential members missed the joke, maybe there’s value in having your ideas and ideals put through the wringer on occasion, and maybe you meant no offense, but if those individuals never attend another UNIFI event, than what difference does it make?

It’s worth mentioning that as with everything posted on the blog, the views described in the following post do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or opinions of UNIFI, its current officer team, or its membership. With all that said, here’s the post:

To paraphrase [former UNIFI president] Michael Dippold in a conversation I had with him the other day: UNIFIers take pride in not taking part in the “echo chamber” (his phrase) that religious people construct for themselves, in which they are surrounded entirely by like-minded individuals. At the same time, active UNIFIers have developed their own echo chamber which perpetuates beliefs and preferred personality traits of a majority of the group. To part from that conversation, it is not okay to make others feel excluded for one’s personal pleasure. As a matter of fact, it’s the textbook definition of bullying. UNIFI has an in-group, mostly comprised of officers and officers’ friends. Every year a small number of new members are brought into the fold. For others who aren’t welcomed as openly, it is often easier to leave and not come back, than to speak up and face harsh judgment from a group of established members. Here are a few examples of behavior I have witnessed:

  • Some potential members I tracked down (as Director of Activities) refused to return to events after hearing the derogatory way that some UNIFI members speak about sports. Sports are considered stupid and pointless. Phrases like “sportsball”, “sportsing”, and “winning March Madness” mock the intelligence of sports fans and athletes. A person at brunch says “I can’t stay — there’s a game on,” or “I’m going to go play some basketball,” and they are mocked for it. Conversely, Magic the Gathering and various video games are embraced as legitimate interests, and frequent discussions thereof can be equally exclusionary to people who don’t share the interest.
  • A popular term used at events and on Facebook, “special snowflake”, serves only to degrade a person who finds confidence in a character trait. It tells them that being unique or taking pride in a shared trait is anti-intellectual and worthy of embarrassment.
  • Anti-theism is widely preferred to atheism that is indifferent or sympathetic to theism. If you are not the right kind of atheist, you may find yourself the target of derision. Long time members may have difficulty seeing this as a problem, because, in a way, UNIFI has created its own echo chamber. Embedded members collectively repeat and mimic their own beliefs to each other.

Though this article is critical of UNIFI culture, the hope is that it spurs members to step back, take an objective look at the social dynamics underlying UNIFI, and enter into a healthy debate.

Now open: 2015-2016 UNIFI Officer Applications

Officer applications for the next academic year are now open! Over the past year, the officer team has run dozens of events, from the Controversial Movie Nights and Know Your Arguments to Progressive Picnic, the Flying Spaghetti Monster Dinner, and Darwin Week.

I’m excited to say that applications are now open for this year, open to any who would like to set the direction for UNIFI for years to come and be a part of these great events! If you’re wondering if you should apply, the short answer is YES, but if you have more questions, see last year’s Officer Application FAQ.

For the upcoming year, there are four officer positions open in addition to President and Vice President. They are the following:

  • Director of Finance: This officer manages UNIFI’s finances, merchandise, and is responsible for coming up with effective ideas for fundraising. A strong math or finance background is not needed to be successful in this position; all responsibilities can be learned. 
  • Director of Activities: This officer oversees event planning and promotion, and is responsible for thinking of new event ideas.
  • Director of Public Relations: This officer runs the UNIFI blog and social media outlets (including Facebook and Twitter) and acts as a liaison to other groups. 
  • Director of Membership: This officer plans and implements our recruitment and retention efforts, and finds new ways to recruit members. 

For a more detailed description of each of the above positions, and for general officer expectations, click here. Not sure how you would fit in, but think you might fill a role needed in the officer team? Apply for the position of Coordinator and fill in the rest.

The officer application process goes as follows:

  • Fill out the attached application form. These will be due Monday, March 30th by 5:00 PM. We will put together an interview schedule, and inform each applicant, by e-mail, of the date, time, and place of the interview. The interviews will include both the prepared questions and some impromptu questions. 
  • Consider the prepared questions. We expect detailed and well-thought out responses. 
  • Come to your interview!
  • The new officer team will be announced on Wednesday, April 15th. 

The interview will consist of your responses to both prepared and impromptu questions. Three prepared questions are provided on the application form, and these must be completed and brought to your interview in addition to completion of the application form.

The application form is linked here.

If you have any questions about any of the above, please contact either Aaron Friel at [email protected] or Natalie Kaufman at [email protected] Additionally, we encourage you to speak with former UNIFI leadership, listed at the bottom of the attached application form.

We look forward to your responses, and good luck!

Your President and Vice President-elect,
Aaron Friel and Natalie Kaufman

UNIFI Alumni: Laura Shiley

Thanks to all of the UNIFI alums who came out to our UNIFI Alumni Reunion in December. We had a great turn-out! Are you a UNIFI alum? Sign-up here to receive the quarterly newsletter and stay up-to-date on alumni things!

unnamedLaura Shiley

Graduation Year:  2012            (transferred from UNI to CU-Boulder)

Major:  Psychology and English

Hometown: Des Moines, IA

Current Location:  Boulder, CO

What are you doing with your life now and how has secularism influenced it?

I’m currently a caregiver for people with developmental disabilities, as well as a bartender at a distillery and I help people to make awesome beer through my job at a homebrew supply store. My secularism played a small role in my primary occupation by pushing me towards psychology. Let me explain. I was in the world’s most useless writing class my first semester at CU-Boulder. We only had two essays to write and I was bored to tears by the very prospect of such a slow semester and such slow classmates. We had to pick a subject that we could write about from an emotional angle and then turn around and write a large research essay on the same topic. I was hung up on religion at this time, so I decided to write about that.

As for my research essay, I based it upon Freud’s theory that religion was just a form of neurosis. So I tried to find research to prove that. But there was very little that attempted to connect religion and mental health. That next semester, I added psychology as my major with the hopes of conducting my own research on the subject some day. Since then, I’ve lost that passion in proving certain people are insane but I’ve gained a passion in simply helping people–I suppose that’s the humanist in me.

Tell us about your secular student organizing at Colorado.

As soon as I arrived at CU-Boulder, I knew that I wanted to replicate UNIFI. But first I wanted to spend a semester recruiting fellow officers. I met several people who wanted to get involved but just a few weeks before I could finalize the club name and file the paper work, I saw a flier advertising the first meeting of Secular Students and Skeptics Society–which I had just missed. But I met up with the founder and by default I became one of the officers. In my role as the Vice President, I was essentially the director of marketing and product development. I planned all of our events and worked hard to network with faculty on campus, potential members, and community members who wanted to support us.

In my first year with the club, I single-handedly organized our own Darwin Week with eight lecturers, brought some paranormal investigators to campus to explain that they still haven’t seen evidence of ghosts, honored Carl Sagan with a lecture by the head of the astronomy department followed by several episodes of Cosmos projected onto the dome of the planetarium, hosted a Flying Spaghetti Monster dinner with over 60 attendees in which we raised over $150 for Kiva, boogied down at a night club where we raised money for Project Angel Heart, organized a group of 12 volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, set up a fun Blasphemy Rights day where I rolled out a 30 ft roll of paper and supplied markers for free speech (the best part of this was that Pastor Jed was there that day), arranged a talk by the beloved Phil Plait, and so on and so forth. You get the gist.

What do you miss most about UNIFI?

Admittedly, I only went to a few Grab a Brew’s before I transferred schools, but that was obviously enough to make a big impact since I wanted to replicate that here. When I left my first Grab a Brew, I was elated because, after two years of attending UNI, I finally found people with whom I could really bond without having to hide or temper my beliefs. I could be genuine. I didn’t have to feel like a leper. This was the first group of secularists that I’d ever met. It felt like I’d exited the dark age.

So I guess what I miss the most is that feeling of overwhelming joy that I received from hearing people debate topics with the utmost respect and thoughtfulness. People really made an effort to understand one another, rather than to just judge.

Any advice for current members?

Make UNIFI a priority. Every week, I’d attend my SSaSS meeting and it was always the best day of my week. I’d leave feeling rejuvenated–like I imagine people with religion in their lives must feel after attending church. The sense of community is why clubs like this exist. So go regularly (and add to the dialogue) in order to fully integrate yourself into the group and it’ll be one of the most valuable keys to providing you with the best college experience possible.



Why I Love Going to Church at Christmas

Disclaimer: I know it’s January, but I can’t help it when inspiration strikes.

The holiday season is largely about tradition. For me, that means a couple of things. I break out my ugly Christmas sweaters, drink a ton of eggnog, eat anything and everything peppermint, set up a Christmas tree, buy presents for my family, sing carols, and go the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. While most of these things are silly and really just a force of habit and the fact that I really like candy canes, some of the things really can be classified as tradition, and the holidays just wouldn’t feel right without them.

First things first, let’s define what exactly traditions are and how they may come to be. Tradition is a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, for a long time (Merriam-Webster). Many traditions, especially surrounding the holidays, come from family. Maybe you always goes to Grandma’s house to eat ham on Christmas, or your family dresses up in new pajamas and reads Christmas stories together (as mine does). Whatever it may be, family customs are central to this time of year.

Then there are religious traditions (note: I really am only talking about Christianity). Of course, around Christmas this includes manger scenes, the story of the Virgin Mary, carols, and church services.

For me, going to Christmas Eve church is less of a religious experience and more of a community one. There is something about holding a candle in the dark and singing beautiful music that makes you feel connected to the people around you. Additionally, the church my family attends (a Methodist church in Rosemount, MN) is much more progressive than many. The service was full of humanist themes like service, acceptance, and love that I was more than comfortable accepting.

Now I’m not saying that all traditions are good or should be continued. I also don’t think following tradition is good for all people. I’m saying that, for me, the holiday season is all about connecting with family, friends, and community. Christmas just wouldn’t feel right without some traditions, including singing with a candle at church, and I have no intention of changing them anytime soon.

Humanist Harry Potter: Dumbledore is Gay (and Other Revelations)


This is part 2 in a series on Harry Potter and Humanism.  This post may contain spoilers.

As I was writing my first blog post on Harry Potter, I kept thinking of interesting bits of information that I felt really supported my concept of Harry Potter as humanist. However, for the first post, I decided to focus only on one aspect on which I felt I could conceivably write an entire blog post. For this post, I’m going to fall back into a list format in an effort to bring together several “revelations” that don’t really have much to do with each other but which I feel are all interesting and important. So, here goes!

1. Lycanthropy symbolizes HIV/AIDS.

J.K. Rowling has stated that Remus Lupin’s lycanthropy is “really a metaphor for people’s reactions to illness and disability” (Conversations with J.K. Rowling). Rowling uses the werewolf as an interesting parallel to how our society treats people who have HIV/AIDS. Lupin has trouble finding stable employment, takes expensive medication to combat the incurable disease, and faces discrimination and stigma from the rest of the wizarding world. While werewolves can be dangerous (e.g. Fenrir Greyback), most of them are like Lupin, simply struggling to exist in a society that ostracizes them. Much like those who contract HIV, people don’t get bitten by werewolves for any higher reason–it just happens. Lupin shows readers that people with illnesses or disabilities are just like everyone else.

2. Dumbledore is gay.

When Rowling outed Dumbledore as homosexual, there were mixed reactions from fans. Though the revelation did not seem to affect the popularity of the book or movie series, the Christian Right in particular felt this as a huge blow, refusing to let their children read the books (those who hadn’t already banned them for sorcery). Naturally, I find this as a big win for the rest of us. One common complaint is that it wasn’t obvious to fans that Dumbledore was gay; in my opinion, that’s part of what makes it brilliant. LGBT* individuals are regular people! What a surprise! Why would we be able to tell Dumbledore was gay? He certainly wasn’t in a romantic relationship in the series (besides Grindewald, but we don’t get that full story). My only disappointment is that Dumbledore is the only gay character (as far as we know), but I guess that’s what fanfiction is for!

3. The conflict between muggleborns and purebloods represents race relations.

Rowling consciously created racial tensions in the Harry Potter series. Though people tend to think that having a magic wand would solve all of our problems, Rowling deliberately shows that social tensions take a lot more than magic to fix. One of the first people Harry meets when he joins the wizarding world is Draco Malfoy, who establishes himself as racist almost immediately. Racism used here doesn’t necessarily mean skin color or ethnicity (a fairly common use for the term), but rather the drastically different cultural backgrounds of purebloods and muggleborns. Once again, Rowling uses the series to demonstrate that these two types of wizards aren’t that different after all. Hermione Granger and Harry’s mother Lily were both muggleborn witches who turned out to be exceedingly smart and magically talented. Malfoy’s cronies, Crabbe and Goyle, both came from pureblood households yet were exceedingly untalented.

So, while some may call for Harry Potter to be banned (my teacher had to stop reading it aloud to my 3rd grade class), I say let’s make it required!

One Nation, Under Whom?

The United States, down to its foundation, has existed as a nation with every intention of religious neutrality. What many people do not understand is that the US is not a Christian nation- it was originally founded on primarily secular beliefs with the intent of a secular state with no one set of religious rules that the US and its population must succumb to. However, since then, a religious gray area exists, regarding its place in American democracy. These days, politicians eagerly claim religious affiliation while campaigning, many speeches with “God Bless America“, and too often our leaders allow their emotionally charged and sometimes irrational beliefs influence the choices they make.

It is evident that the Constitution is a secular document, one free from the binds of religion. The framers intentionally left out God to allow for religious freedom. Many founding fathers were non-Christian deists, and even more were strong advocates of secularism in government (I know, hold your gasps until the end of this post). They made an especially strong effort to omit any mention of a God from the document, writing “We the People” in order to give the power to the people instead of assigning the power to a sole ruler or a God.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
The first amendment elaborates on this framework by stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is broken up into two clauses: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause prevents the government from instituting a state religion and from adopting any policy that favors one religion over another. The Free Exercise Clause ensures that  individuals are provided the opportunity to practice whichever religion they choose or no religion. Freedom from religious oppression and tolerance for religious diversity are utopian ideals of an effective democracy.

Unfortunately, utopias do not exist, and the First Amendment is somewhat subjective. This can be seen through the various interpretations with the different Supreme Court eras. The distinct opinions are especially apparent when looking at the Hobby Lobby case from this summer. The case set the precedent that closely-held corporations can have religious free exercise, in this case refusing to provide healthcare in the form of certain contraceptives. It illustrates the Courts’ attempt even to extend these freedoms to corporations. Quite the controversial case, it stirred discussions of what it means when one’s rights could infringe upon another’s. Despite the justifications, many see the ruling as favoring Christianity. In other words, there is quite a fine line between the two clauses.

Despite the foundation of religious tolerance, the claim that the United States was intended to be a Christian nation is increasingly prevalent. While it is entirely possible that some of the founding father identified as Christian,  there was recognition that religious tolerance was best. Individual faith is different from government sanctioned religion; the founding fathers recognized this separation of church and state. Personal faith refers to beliefs and doctrines held by a person, and these individual beliefs are more often than not thought to influence morals and virtues. Based on this, people often make the mistake that religion equates to morals.

Morals do not inherently transpire from religion, nor does religion equate to morals. There are natural laws outside of religion that help govern people and guide them morally. Most people agree that lying and killing are inherently wrong, even without the Ten Commandments. Altruism and other “positive morals” can be observed in other species, where religion does not exist and there is no capacity for religion or politics.

Rats have been shown to exhibit signs of empathy towards other rats, studies conclude.
Rats have been shown to exhibit signs of empathy towards other rats, studies conclude.

Yet here in good ol’ America, people equate religion with morals, thus religion with good.




The belief that morals and religion go hand in hand leads to an understanding of why politicians often jump on the bandwagon and “me-tooism” when it comes to identifying with a religion. Especially during campaign season, politicians tend to end their political speeches with “God bless” or other phrases associated with a religion. Referring back to the Constitution, the founding fathers wrote that “…no religious test [should] ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or Public Trust under the United States.” Yet, despite the absence of any religious requirement, there still exists an expectation of religious affiliation. Most politicians see the association with a religion as a way to earn votes – it is an easy way to share a common belief with a group of people.

Too often, those in the majority sway politics one way or another, and in the case of the United States, the majority are Christians.  Their influence appears throughout our government and day-to-day activities, whether it is in the aforementioned speeches or engraved in official government buildings. One can see this in the evolution of the pledge of allegiance where the phrase  “one nation, indivisible,” was changed to “one nation, under God.” The flaw with this religious hegemony is that it goes against everything that the founding fathers had intended in the formation of this nation. Instead of politicians operating outside of religion, they are entangled in it and expected to be religious. Thus, the personal option of enjoying one’s religion becomes a professional mandate, without which they would likely be dubbed immoral.