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.

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.

Announcing the 2016-2017 UNIFI President

It’s with great pleasure that I announce today the next President of the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers, Natalie Kaufman. On April 15th, she will take office with a new officer team appointed by her for the next year. As well, Natalie will announce her appointee for Vice President and the opening of applications for officer positions soon. That said, let me explain why she is the natural successor for leadership in this group.

I’ve been fortunate to know Natalie since she came to UNI and she attended her first event within weeks of coming to campus. Even in the first event she attended, she demonstrated a willingness to discuss, critically analyze, and deconstruct the arguments she was presented with. She examines the ideas of others with a critical eye, even if she won’t always admit it, and is careful to form her own response. These are aspects I’d consider valuable for any leader, and so vital for a group that values skepticism as highly as ours.

In her time in UNIFI, she has demonstrated compassion toward her fellow members, dedication to the tasks at hand, and a willingness to go above and beyond. As Director of Public Relations last year, she went above and beyond and created a process for advertising events and coordinating Darwin Week that was much needed. This year, she proved to be an invaluable support through thick and thin as the Vice President.

But most of all, I have always appreciated her resilience in the face of opposition, her willingness to challenge me – respectfully – and ensure the organization was being run well free project management app. This is something I’ve greatly missed as she spends the current semester studying in Italy, and I sincerely hope she’s able to find an officer team that will contribute as much to her success as she has to my own.

Thank you, Natalie, and best wishes for the year to come. You have my respect and my support, and I know as the next President, you will earn the same from each member.

A moderate opinion on mass shootings in the U.S.

The mass shooting issue in the United States, from the outside, probably seems easily solvable. First of all, the United States has mass shootings regularly and with a much higher frequency than other western democracies. Additionally, the United States also has the most guns (a little more than one gun per citizen). At this point it would be hard for anyone, understandably, to stop themselves from drawing the lines of causation. But, we should not be so hasty. Before we get excited about gun violence and dream up some legislation, perhaps there is a more nuanced approach to understanding mass shootings in America. Such an approach would have to weigh the already known facts about the issue: How is gun regulation handled already? Which guns are legal? Which guns are used most often in mass shootings? What is the mental health situation of the shooters? What is the commonality between all of these shooters?

The article that I am sharing provides some answers to these questions. It is, so far, the most interesting perspective I have heard on this issue. Far too often we hear people either demonize mass shooters as reactionary machines of hate carrying out the unspoken will of the far right, or people dismiss them completely as being mentally ill. I have, admittedly, tended towards the dismissive side. I would often think, “You can’t be right in the head to wake up one day and decide to follow through with something like that.” While I still maintain this, the statement is different from “the shooter was mentally ill.” Indeed my statement, thanks to the article I am sharing, has been refined. I now will say, “the shooter has been socially neglected.”

I imagine that this narrative won’t be well received. There are those who hold that “making the shooter a victim subtracts from the justice of the victims.” Frankly, I don’t give a damn. Part of my lack of sympathy with people who hold this opinion is due to my stance on the “justice system” as a whole: it should not be about justice, but rather rehabilitation. Society does not benefit from prisons as they have been, criminals should be given a chance to start over and improve themselves so that they can one day rejoin the people and share their gifts. Secondly, on my lack of sympathy, the view that holds shooters as a victim (in some light) is optimistic; perhaps there are attitudes and practices that we can implement from day to day life that can prevent this behavior.

One of Us (or is she?): My Atheism in Bible College

Like many other atheists, I grew up with a significant religious indoctrination. Unlike many other atheists, I actively chose to fulfill my freshman year at a Pentecostal university that focuses more on indoctrination, theology, and worship than on any other departments. It was not the wisest decision to attend that university, but it was one that I made while I was still a Christian, thinking that going to a Bible college would dispel my doubts. I was wrong.

I arrived to the university, and on move-in day, I was playing Metallica while I folded and put away my clothes. When someone leaned in my open door, asked if I was “okay, because that music is really, really sad,” and if they could pray for me, I was shocked. Was this really so different? The answer is yes. Conversation about touchy topics is avoided, and I found deep conversation to be difficult to achieve. Aside from this, I had my doubts about the faith; the following six weeks exacerbated those doubts, and I was afraid to talk about my impending realization of my atheism. Surely, I would lose friends (and I did); surely, I would be turned over to the university administration (which had happened to others before me). The warm environment of the Bible College, a little bubble of religious focus in a progressive city, was not so warm. It was suffocating.

I was constantly afraid to talk about the way that I believed when I came to terms with my atheism. I didn’t want to be turned over, which would more than likely warrant my meeting with the Residence Life Coordinator and being put through counseling, maybe writing a paper rebuking my doubt. I’m not sure about the last part, but I understand that the apology essay is part of the process for LGBT* students who come out at the Bible college.

My then-roommate was fantastic about listening to me pour my heart out over feeling trapped and unwelcome, and I never did thank her appropriately. She and I shared a class in which a man, seeking his degree to become a pastor, blatantly proclaimed to the class that non-Christians are unable to feel or understand love because they don’t know God, the deification of love himself. She agreed that Christians often speak poorly of non-Christians when they think they aren’t around, and it was something I had to keep quiet about regardless. It was my own version of being in the closet. If she reads this, I want to thank her for being the great friend that she was and continues to be, and thank her for letting me use our room as the only room in that Bible college where I could be (almost) shamelessly myself.

When I left that university, it was a great burden and a great relief simultaneously. I had a few good friends that sort-of understood why I was leaving, and more people beyond that who probably couldn’t have cared less. I was happy to be reentering the secular world, where I no longer felt constrained, but I was so sad to be leaving the friends that I had made and the city I came to love. I was nervous about the changes to come, but it was time for me to feel free.

Now, I sit here before my laptop, typing out these condensed anecdotes for a blog run by my new university’s only organization aiming to promote solely secular values, science, reason, critical thought, and so on. I am typing this as Heather, Director of Activities for the UNI Freethinkers & Inquirers. I went from feeling unwelcome at a university for my first year away from home to making my new home, surrounded by plenty of wonderful people for whom I do not have to put on a show.

I feel more comfortable now, but sometimes I still feel uncomfortable when people from earlier in my life find out about my abandonment of Christianity. People treat me as if I’m just mistaken, or as if my atheism is “just a phase.” It’s annoying and feels demeaning, but I can’t say that it was unexpected. I understand that it’s the price I have to pay for my honesty.

I am thankful that my experience has been much easier than those of many others, and I can only hope that I add positive memories and connotations for the Christians that I’ve befriended or left behind.

(Get it? Left Behind?)

75% Water, 85% Catholic, 100% Confused: Mexican & Secular

GUADALUPEXICOEven if I don’t sit in on my mother’s FaceTime calls to my grandmother, I know the format by now. First fifteen minutes, someone has bad connection. Next fifteen minutes, talking about my cousins. It’s at the thirty-minute mark where things get interesting. Around there is when my grandmother asks my mother if she’s taken my brother and I to church. Or it might be at the forty-five minute mark, or at the twenty-three. As long as me, my brother or both of us are sitting there, the topic of our morals and our beliefs are fair game. I don’t want to make it seem like it’s some sort of inquisition, nor do I want to disrespect my grandmother’s or my extended family’s Catholicism. On the contrary, I sincerely believe that if their beliefs bring them comfort and give them life, then power to them. What’s interesting is looking at my Mexican heritage through the lens of secularism. What does it mean to be a non-Catholic Mexican when the majority of your heritage is heavily Catholic? How does one express heritage when most of the iconography comes from Catholicism?

There’s a lot of talk and rabble in American politics about separation of Church and state, but there’s not that type of discussion in Mexican politics. There doesn’t need to be. Many Mexican cultural traditions are heavily catholic. This trickles down to the layperson’s culture and worldview. What comes next is a general acceptance of what it means to be Mexican. Iconography of La Virgen Maria is as Mexican as it is Catholic, being grounded in both populist folklore as well as Catholic tradition of venerating the Virgin Mary.

Why separate the church and the state when the Church is seen as a basic aspect of the Culture? Not to say that Mexico is a theocracy, but in a country that is 85% Catholic (as of 2010)1, there isn’t as much mainstream fear of a state using its power to impose religion onto its citizens as there is here. To be Mexican is to be Catholic. This belief is still a vestige of Spanish Colonization, when all non-Colonizer belief systems were mostly stamped out. And it is still damn potent. I remember when I heard a friend of mine, who is also of Mexican heritage, was not Catholic but Baptist. I felt a strange sense of bewilderment that I just don’t get when I hear a non-Mexican, particularly a white American say they’re not Christian. I’ve heard it all from white America: paganism, atheism, deism, pastafarianism, and convenient nihilism, it’s whatever. That doesn’t surprise me. But a non-Catholic Mexican feels scandalous, even if there’s literally nothing wrong with that.

The closest thing to an answer I have is the Mexican flag itself. The flag, like other flags holds meaning in its colors. In particular, the symbol of the eagle and the cactus in the middle. For reference, here’s a flag:


Take note of the Eagle and the Cactus in the middle. After my ranting on Catholic iconography, you’d expect that to probably be either tied to some local catholic tradition. For the most part, it is. The green signifies the independence movement, while the white signifies the purity of Catholicism. The red represents the Spanish who joined in to help the independence. But in the middle there’s an eagle and a cactus. Those are just as Mexican as the rest of the flag, but they are not grounded in colonial traditional Catholicism. Instead, it’s a precolonial myth2 about the establishment of the Aztec capital. In the myth, the Aztec tribe had been wandering for a long time when the gods came down and gave them this advice: to keep wandering until they came upon a nopal, a cactus, with an eagle eating a snake perched on it. That seemed like an impossible thing, to find that combination in the desert. But they came upon that, on the site of where Mexico City is now located. It has been an enduring symbol of Mexico and it’s native roots. And if a Catholic country can have a non-Catholic symbol in the center, I can keep on, expressing my heritage and the community it brings. It’s not the best solution, but I’ll keep wandering until I find one.



1Pew Research Center, Global Catholic Population

2Mexican Flag – AmHistorySI




I am not sure that I stand with Ahmed, and that is okay.

Self-indulging finger snaps aside, I think that the public response to the Ahmed’s clock story is a little ridiculous. Here are some snippets from CNN’s coverage:

When Ahmed Mohamed went to his high school in Irving, Texas, Monday, he was so excited. A teenager with dreams of becoming an engineer, he wanted to show his teacher the digital clock he’d made from a pencil case.

“I built a clock to impress my teacher but when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her,” Ahmed told reporters Wednesday. “It was really sad that she took the wrong impression of it.”


CNN reports, as well as Ahmed himself, that Ahmed built the clock. However, analysis of the guts of the device pictured indicate that Ahmed is getting far more credit than is due for his device. Ahmed’s clock is a disassembled 80’s alarm clock loosely attached to a pencil case. In this light, these praises are vacuous:

When a white kid builds nuclear fusion reactor it’s cool
but when a Muslim builds a clock it’s not

Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.

If anybody has a spare STEM scholarship laying around, there’s a very bright kid in Texas who could use your help. #IStandWithAhmed

I am not frustrated with the painfully obvious narrative, and maybe the narrative is true, but rather I am frustrated that the narrative is completely disjoint from the facts, which are these: Ahmed did not build the clock and the device looks very suspicious. It goes without saying that most people couldn’t tell an IED from any other case full of electronic guts, as emphasized in this picture:


Nor do I want to rush to the other side and claim that Ahmed is a hooligan, as implied by Richard Dawkins. I don’t want to do this for the same reason that I don’t want to praise him as a prodigal creator: doing so is unsupported by the facts at hand. So, my friends, before you hop on the shared opinion train of groupthinkville, please find the facts in the situation before you fully purchase any narrative.

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.

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.

Kate Heetland
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.

Alec Baldus
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!

Grace Kinser
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.

MaKayla McDonald
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.

Alexander 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.