UNIFI Alumni: Laura Shiley

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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.



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