All posts by Natalie Kaufman


You’ve seen the schedule; now learn more about our daily speakers! Each day of Darwin Week 2017, there will be special presentations by people from the UNI community. All speeches will occur in the University Room, which is located on the bottom floor of Maucker Union.


Our 12:30 Thursday Speaker is Dr. Reza Lahroodi, an associate professor of philosophy here at the University of Northern Iowa. Dr. Lahroodi did his undergrad and master’s at Tehran University in Iran and began to study philosophy as a result of the Iranian Revolution and the explosion of freedom of speech it brought. He now teaches classes on epistemology, medieval philosophy, virtue theory, and philosophical psychology. He is currently working on a paper on the virtue of open-mindedness and its normative and psychological aspects.

Dr. Lahroodi’s Darwin Week 2017 presentation is entitled “Are We Responsible for What We Believe?


Our 2:00 Thursday speaker is Dr. Evan Renfro. Dr. Renfro is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa. He received his masters from the University of Texas and his Doctorate in Political Science from the University of Nebraska. His research interests include international security, Middle Eastern affairs, counterintelligence, guerilla warfare, and critical realism. He teaches classes on international relations, international security and the Middle East.

Dr. Renfro’s Darwin Week 2017 presentation is entitled “The Paradox of Skepticism: Fake News and the Politics of Credulity


Our 3:30 Thursday speaker is Dr. Edgar Boedeker, an associate professor of philosophy in the Department of Philosophy and World Religions. He is currently working on a new translation of Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, which is regarded as one of the most important philosophical works in European philosophy of the 20th century. He is also working on a book entitled Wittgenstein’s Basic Demant, and has several other published works on phenomenology and Heidegger. He teaches classes on the philosophy of language, German philosophy, logic, and humanities.

Dr. Boedeker’s Darwin Week 2017 Presentation is entitled “Is God “Dead”? Friedrich Nietzsche on Nihilism”.


Our keynote speaker that evening is NASA aerospace engineer Kathryn CroweKathryn Crowe works as a propulsion systems engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She received NASA’s Space Flight Awareness Trailblazer Award for her innovative thinking in support of human spaceflight. She works on evaluating design options and deciding on solutions to make the second configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) as flexible and adaptable as possible. The work Kathryn does will help make the rocket more powerful and open up new mission possibilities, opening the door to the first crewed mission to venture into lunar orbit since Apollo.

Her talk is entitled “Skepticism, Objectivity, and the Journey to Mars”.


If you haven’t already, please “like” the Darwin Week Facebook page (and the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers page, while you’re at it!) Also, click “attending” on the event to get quick Facebook access to the schedule as well as ask questions or add comments.

You can also join the ranks of the several dedicated UNIFI members who have changed their profile pictures and cover images to the ones on this page.


You’ve seen the schedule; now learn more about our daily speakers! Each day of Darwin Week 2017, there will be special presentations by people from the UNI community. All speeches will occur in the University Room, which is located on the bottom floor of Maucker Union.


Our 2:00 Wednesday Speaker is Dr. Jeremy Schraffenberger. J.D. Schraffenberger is the associate editor of the North American Review and an associate professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the author of the book of poems Saint Joe’s Passion, and his other work has appeared in Best Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Mid-American Review, Natural Bridge, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere.

Dr. Schraffenberger’s Darwin Week 2017 presentation is entitled “The Necessary Poetics of Atheism


Our 4:00 Wednesday speaker is Dr. Scott Peters, an associate professor of political science here at the University of Northern Iowa and a prelaw advisor to the Daniel Webster Law Society. He graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1998 and is interested in the effectiveness of various ethical restrictions that states place on judicial candidates. He teaches classes on constitutional law, analyzing politics, and civil rights and liberties.

Dr. Peters’ Darwin Week 2017 presentation is entitled “Alternative Facts Are Stubborn Things



Our keynote speaker that evening is author and professor of religious studies Dr. Hector Avalos! He is the author or editor of ten books, including The End of Biblical Studies and The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics.


Dr. Avalos’ Darwin Week 2017 Presentation is entitled “Can Science Prove Prayer Works?” Check here for more info!

If you haven’t already, please “like” the Darwin Week Facebook page (and the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers page, while you’re at it!) Also, click “attending” on the event to get quick Facebook access to the schedule as well as ask questions or add comments.

You can also join the ranks of the several dedicated UNIFI members who have changed their profile pictures and cover images to the ones on this page.


You’ve seen the schedule; now learn more about our daily speakers! Each day of Darwin Week 2017, there will be special presentations by people from the UNI community. All speeches will occur in the University Room, which is located on the bottom floor of Maucker Union.


Our 12:30 Tuesday speaker is Dr. Jim Demastes, a professor from the department of biology.  Originally from Georgia, Dr. Demastes received his bachelor degree from Auburn University in science education in 1982.  After teaching middle and high school science for 4 years he attended Louisiana State University where he received his M.S and PhD degrees studying evolutionary biology.  After 2 years in a post-doc position, he and his wife, Dr. Theresa Spradling came to UNI in 1998 where they both teach and are currently collaborating on their federally funded research and the raising of two boys.

Dr. Demastes’ Darwin Week 2017 presentation is entitled “Uncommon Sense and Testing the Obvious: Lessons from Biology.


Our 2:00 Tuesday speaker is Dr. Carolyn Hildebrandt, a Professor of Psychology. She did her Ph.D. and Postdoctoral Fellowship at University of California, Berkeley.  Her areas of expertise are social and cognitive development, musical development, and constructivist approaches to teaching and learning.

Dr. Hildebrandt’s Darwin Week 2017 presentation is entitled “Superstition: Abnormal, Irrational, Pathological, or Adaptive?


Our 3:30 Tuesday speaker is Dr. John Burnight from the Philosophy and World Religions Department. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and World Religions. His research focuses on the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), with a particular interest in the Book of Job. His regular course offerings at UNI include Religions of the World, Old Testament, New Testament, and Judaism and Islam.

Dr. Burnight’s Darwin Week 2017 presentation’s topic is entitled “Biblical Skepticism: The Book of Job as Subversive Literature“.


Our keynote speaker that night at 7 p.m. is writer, editor, activist, and translator Hiba Krisht! She is a volunteer activist with The Ex-Muslims of North America, and has spoken about Islam, the Middle East, and women’s rights at secular humanist conferences all over the country w6aed7f. Her talk is entitled “Veils, Virginity, and (In)Visibility: On Being a Woman in Hezbollah Culture”.

Check here for more info!

If you haven’t already, please “like” the Darwin Week Facebook page (and the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers page, while you’re at it!) Also, click “attending” on the event to get quick Facebook access to the schedule as well as ask questions or add comments.

You can also join the ranks of the several dedicated UNIFI members who have changed their profile pictures and cover images to the ones on this page.

Get Excited for Darwin Week 2017!

If you’ve been following us on Facebook, you’re probably already aware that Darwin Week 2017 is in a few short weeks on February 13-16. We are incredibly excited as it is our 10th annual Darwin Week!

If you haven’t already, please “like” the Darwin Week Facebook page (and the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers page, while you’re at it!) Also, click “attending” on the event to get quick Facebook access to the schedule as well as ask questions or add comments.

You can also join the ranks of the several dedicated UNIFI members who have changed their profile pictures and cover images to the ones on this page. 

Last but not least, is up and running! Thanks to the gorgeous web design of former UNIFI Presidents Michael Dippold and Aaron Friel, and our wonderful graphic designer Cassie Beadle, you have a clear list of all the talks and sponsors in one place (and it’s mobile!)

Stay tuned to Facebook and for more updates on Darwin Week 2017 speakers, sponsors, and important announcements. We sincerely appreciate all the support we continuously receive for putting on an event that allows so many students to be exposed to skepticism, scientific thought, and critical inquiry.

Meet the Speakers of Darwin Week 2017: Kavin Senapathy

Darwin Week this year will be from February 13-16 and UNIFI’s officer team is busy planning away! Each day there will be 3-4 UNI faculty members giving talks and each evening of Darwin Week 2017, there will be a special presentation by someone from outside the UNI community. All talks will occur around 7:00 pm in the University Room in the basement of Maucker Union.

Our first keynote speaker is Kavin Senapathy on Monday evening at 7 pm. Her Darwin Week 2017 presentation is entitled Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in Your Grocery Cart. 

Our food supply has never been safer, or more varied or abundant as it is in the developed world today. Yet the public fears “toxins” and chemicals in food, and faces an avalanche of labels with every trip to the market. Kavin Senapathy will discuss why people believe what they do about food, why these myths proliferate, and how to decipher the tactics that marketers use.

Kavin Senapathy is an author, writer, and science activist covering health, medicine, biotechnology, agriculture and food. She’s the co-founder and director of international pro-science, pro-biotech movement March Against Myths, and co-author of “The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House,” a book discussing popular food misconceptions and why they proliferate despite evidence against them. As a mom to a 6-year-old and 3-year-old, Senapathy often tackles health and nutrition misinformation targeted at parents. She’s a regular contributor to Forbes, with work frequently appearing in outlets like Slate, Gawker, Grounded Parents and more. She is active on social media, and can be found discussing the latest biotech, food, health and parenting-related news on Twitter @ksenapathy and Facebook at

Introducing the 2016-2017 Officer Team

I am very excited to announce this upcoming year’s officer team. I was very impressed with all of the interviews and cannot wait to see all that these wonderful humans bring to the table. Without further ado, I would like to introduce you all to :

Casey McGregor, Director of Public Relations13020221_10207753594391186_181633237_n

Casey will be in his third year at UNI and is thrilled to be a part of an organization that spreads great values to the community. He is a History major who enjoys all things in life especially friends, food and all things Game of Thrones. In addition to UNIFI he will be the Secretary/Treasurer for UNI STARR next year. He can’t wait to get involved as Director of Public Relations and give back to the organization that accepted him with open arms.

Brooke Wiese, Director of Activities

is just finishing her sophomore year at UNI. She’s double majoring in English and Anthropology with a minor in Creative Writing. Outside of UNIFI, she enjoys writing, drawing, puns, D&D, and staring off into the distant horizon. She loves being involved in UNIFI and is unbelievably excited to take on the position of Director of Activities. It’s going to be an amazing year!

Tanner Filip, Director of Finance

11048733_10206676102973606_3139080686800704127_nTanner is a freshman, studying computer science. He is currently serving in NISG as a senator for the College of Arts, Humanities, and Sciences. He also doesn’t like choosing photos of himself, nor writing bios (not to be confused with BIOS)

Nicole Valentine, Director of Membership

is a first year social work major from Dyersville, Iowa. She is looking forward to joining the officer team and working with all members of UNIFI. Outside of UNIFI, she is the Special Events Coordinator for Feminist Action League. She is so excited to take on the role of Director of Membership and work to make the coming year fantastic!


Cassie Beadle, Graphic Designer

Cassie is very excited to return to UNIFI as the graphic designer for her last year. Cassie is a graphic design major and has been the graphic design coordinator for UNIFI for the last 2 years. She can’t wait to be involved in UNIFI again and get to know the new members and officers.

Aaron Friel, Alumni Coordinator

05a2844d-3529-45fa-9067-51835face061Aaron Friel is a math and computer science major and past president of the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers. He will be spending his last year building alumni connections and working for the new leadership to celebrate the organization’s tenth birthday! Besides UNIFI, he’s involved in progressive causes and working on software projects for UNI and hopes to launch a startup soon after graduating.

Announcing UNIFI’s 2016-2017 Vice President

I would like to start this post off by thanking Aaron Friel for appointing me as the next president of UNIFI. I have learned so much by working with him and he has left behind a clear definition of what a good leader truly is. I am looking forward to contributing my vision to UNIFI this year, and I cannot wait to see all that UNIFI becomes with our officer team.

That said, I would like to announce the Vice President for UNIFI’s 2015-2016 term: Oliverio Covarrubius. I went to high school with Oliverio and have had the privilege to watch him grow and mature through his time at UNI. Time and time again, Oliverio has impressed me with his intelligence and skeptical criticism of other people’s (often worrisome) ideas, even if we won’t always show to others how smart he truly is. I admire his quick wit, his determination, and his passion. He is incredibly dedicated to things that matter to him, and for which I respect him greatly for.

As Director of Finance last year, Oliverio surprised me time and time again with his dedication, professionalism and the way he handled his responsibilities. He contributed fresh ideas to the team and went above and beyond for what it means to be a director. One moment that strongly sticks out to me why Oliverio will be a great Vice President is his ability to combine his perspective on diversity with the vision of UNIFI. This is something he promised to bring to the officer team during interviews last year, and a promise he came true on. Back in the fall when the Ethnic Student Promoters and Black Student Union lead a boycott of the Panther Open House, Oliverio was the first person to suggest that UNIFI take a stance of solidarity and emphasize the importance of an inclusive environment for all students, and in particular multicultural students.

These are all things that he accomplished so far in the role of a director, and I look forward to seeing what he can accomplish as Vice President. I am so impressed already with all that he has done, both for UNIFI and the university itself. I know Oliverio is somebody that holds the utmost respect and dedication for UNIFI, which combined for his passion for freethought makes it a really easy decision for me to make. So congratulations Oliverio, looking forward to a great year working alongside you.

Keep an eye out for officer applications, which will be posted within the next two weeks.

Guest post by Tanner Filip: Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech

As an American, I’m eternally grateful that when our constitution was written, it was written to include rights that aren’t there for billions of others. Among the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment is arguably the most important, and relevant in the life of an everyday American.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Moral dilemmas often stem from this freedom, as I’ve witnessed time after time in the four weeks I’ve been on campus — most recently, Monday. Hillary Clinton was at UNI for her presidential campaign, speaking to students, meeting with professors, and just chillin’ in Cedar Falls. She’s not the subject of this though, other people can write about her. Along with Clinton was an unaffiliated man known affectionately as “Preacher Bob”, presumably hoping to take advantage of the crowd she drew. Whether that’s his actual name, or just a nickname my professor gave him, I don’t know. What I can say fairly confidently is that this man was either full of hatred, just downright ostentatious, or both; my personal guess is the latter.

Preacher Bob stood outside the student Union, yelling at students as they walked past him. There was a lot of the normal, “You’re all sinners”, “You’re going to hell!”, and probably anything else you can think of. I don’t think many people took what he said personally, but I know there are some who did. Some people argued with him, others flipped the bird, but I’d guess a majority just ignored him. Maybe a brief glance, some didn’t even walk by him, whether by choice or simply because he wasn’t in their path. One person responded by yelling back at him, “You have no right to condemn these people! God loves all of his children equally!” Some may say that they wish that these people didn’t have to respond to Preacher Bob, that Preacher Bob wasn’t allowed on campus with his hateful sentiments. While I wish that he didn’t hold these views, I wholeheartedly disagree with the thought that he shouldn’t be allowed on campus.

Since the University of Northern Iowa is a public university, not a private entity, free speech is protected on both a state and federal level. Although I completely oppose Preacher Bob’s statements, and I have a hard time sympathizing with him, I hold a level of respect when someone does evangelize as crassly as the Preacher does. It’s rude, it’s hurtful, and frankly, it’s obnoxious, but Preacher Bob comes out, knowing that a majority of the students he sees will resent his words, and he preaches. Do I respect the way that he preaches, or the message he sends? Absolutely not. I respect the fact that he utilizes his freedom of speech.

I’m not saying that people who stand on the street yelling hateful concepts are right to do that. People who do this should seriously question their life choices; if you really and truly believe you’re right and they’re wrong, you should be having a discussion, and argument even, but not saying “I’m right, you’re wrong, we’re done here”. This goes for everything, not just religion.free_speech

To the kid who yelled back at the Preacher that he didn’t have the right to condemn people, good on you. The one who walked into class ten minutes late because “[you] had to argue with a street preacher”,  keep arguing with the street preachers. LGBTQ+ couples making out in front of him, you’ve got my respect.

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.

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?