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The Final Reveal

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It’s time to reveal the rest of our scholarship winners! Well... almost time. We still haven’t reached our fundraising goal for next year’s scholarships. Can you take a quick moment and donate $50 to fund our scholarships?

And now here they are: the remaining SSA 2016 scholarship winners!

MatthewMatthew Facciani is a Patheos blogger, social psychology PhD student, and member of the SSA at the University of South Carolina. His SSA group is incredibly active: from blood drives, raising money for cancer research, fundraising for the local rape crisis center, tackling issues of social justice and battling the stigma against atheists, they’ve done it all! In his application, Matthew discussed how his secular values are a key motivator to his activism:“I think as a humanist, that we should try to reduce as much suffering as possible. That is why I fight so hard for social justice.”

SeanSean Rivera is the president of the SSA at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Sean decided to become an activist after experiencing discrimination as a Black and Latino atheist. He’s active in Black Lives Matter and volunteered as an escort at Planned Parenthood. When one of his friends got kicked out of their home for coming out as an atheist, Sean organized an effort to raise funds to help his friend get to safety. He’s seen firsthand how the secular community can come together to help friends and the community at large. He hopes this scholarship will allow him to focus more of his time on activism and promoting secular values.

We are halfway to our scholarship fundraising goal, and the generous matching offer is still in place. Donate $50 and it will become $100, donate $100 and we’ll get $200!

ClaireDuring high school, Claire VanValkenburg was repeatedly bullied for being secular, but she didn’t let mean notes and hateful messages deter her. She joined the SSA affiliate at the University of Wisconsin‑Madison and got to work making change. Last year she organized a 500-person demonstration and march against sexual assault. She is planning a follow-up event this year to highlight the erasure of victims of sexual assault. She leads her group's efforts with Openly Secular Day and the upcoming Freethought Festival 6.

SamreenaAs an ex-Muslim, Samreena Farooqui faced isolation because of her atheism to a degree that even many other SSA students might not have. She had trouble finding people who could identify with her current experience and her past experiences. The SSA gave her a space to change that. As a former officer at the SSA at Florida State University, she worked with the national organization to find the tools and materials she needed to build the community she and others like her needed, like organizing the Southeast Regional Student conference. She is also active with the Planned Parenthood Generation Action group on her campus. Her activism includes testifying in front of the state senate to oppose a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood, organizing a “Condom Crawl” to pass out condoms to tailgaters before a football game, and organizing the Take No More Fest, which helps fund local organizations like the Oasis Center for Women and Girls and the Trans Liberation Front.

AidanAidan Marshall-Court is our Historically Black Colleges and Universities Scholarship winner. He’s currently a sophomore at Bowie State University. In his application, he told us: “An atheist in a predominately black community is something that is not heard of often. Religion is seen as an essential part in the African American community....” During high school, Aidan faced significant discrimination for his non-belief. For a while he kept his non-belief close to his chest, but no longer. He attended and volunteered at the 2016 Reason Rally, and also participated in the lobby days. He is working on starting a chapter of the Washington Area Secular Humanists and an SSA group on his campus.

And there you have it: all the 2016 Scholarship winners! Congratulations to all of them! We are so impressed with their activism, as well as that of all our students. Commitment and activism like this will help create the secular future we envision.

We need to fund that future. We’re running out of time to meet our fundraising goal for next year’s scholarships. Donate now to fund our scholarship program and show solidarity with our amazing students!

Our country elected a man...

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The following is a note that the Secular Student Alliance board chair, Evan Clark, just shared with our staff.

If you are as fired up as he and I are, please join us with a donation. It’s needed now more than ever.

- August E. Brunsman IV


Dear SSA Board & Staff,

The other night our country elected a man whose values, rhetoric, and behavior are antithetical to the mission of our organization. Our country elected a Senate and House that actively oppose our vision for America and our place in its diverse fabric. And our government will likely create a Supreme Court that could very well redefine many of our community's most cherished protections.

No doubt, this is a reality many of us hoped we'd never have to experience, and the fear and pain we're feeling is real.

But I wrote this email to also express why there is hope to be found in what happened.

We have an opportunity to provide humanistic moral leadership people are in need of.

Unlike any conservative leader that has come before him, President-elect Trump has inspired a seismic level of emotional opposition. People are rightfully scared about the future, hungry for innovative solutions, and desperate for direction. A new wave of activists and students are suddenly looking for groups brave enough to stand up and fight.

The SSA will be one of those organizations!

I'm not going to promise any of you everything will be easy. There are massive potential dangers, especially for our students, in the years ahead.

I want to remind you of the opening paragraph of our Mission and Values statement. I believe it is exactly what America needs right now.

Our Mission

Our work is as important now as ever.

Evan Clark
Chair, Secular Student Alliance

Big Winners

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Despite any feelings you may have about last night's elections, I have an announcement we all can appreciate. The first batch of SSA scholarship winners!

But before I reveal them, thanks to everyone who has donated so far. We are off to a great start in funding next year's scholarships, but there is still a ways to go. Please make a donation now!

Now to the winners. Today I’ll be sharing our $1,000 winners.

arielAriel is a student at Baylor University. Baylor is an extremely hostile environment for an SSA group. The school openly opposes having the group on campus and has refused to officially recognize the group. That hasn’t stopped Ariel from making an impact. Under her leadership, the SSA group protested Baylor's Title IX violations. They've partnered with the local NAACP to work on voter registration. They led interfaith events and have been active with Planned Parenthood. She helped bring 'controversial' secular speakers to her campus, including Matt Dillahunty and Russel Glasser. Finally, RAs at Baylor are now trained on how to help incoming secular and atheist freshmen, all because of the work of Ariel and the "unofficial" Baylor SSA.

benjaminBenjamin Mowbray helped form his second SSA group at the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center after forming his first SSA group at the Oklahoma City Community College. Both experiences left him shocked to find people who had no idea that there were other non-believers around them. As an activist he helped organize an interfaith panel that included Muslim, Buddhist, and Pagan students. He’s also partnered with Nursing Students for Choice to host an event for the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. More than just an SSA leader, Benjamin is a board member of Oklahoma Atheists and the first atheist board member of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma!

Impressive so far, right? If you agree, stop reading right now, and go donate. Then come back and finish this article.

amberAmber Barnhill is a name you should already be familiar with, as this is her second SSA scholarship win! She previously won in part for her powerful story of perseverance, and her ability to harness personal struggles into public advocacy. Now a student at Lamar University, she has continued her impressive activism. She’s founded the local chapter of Atheists Helping the Homeless. She's hosted a Religious Freedom Panel at her local city hall, which caused three city councilors to quit in protest of the panel being allowed. Now she is working on creating a sex education program through the Unitarian Church, and has continued to share her story publicly, including on Darrel Ray's podcast and with a blog post on Patheos.

morganMorgan Stringer went to the French Camp Academy as a child, a fundamentalist boarding school where she was not allowed to expose her knees and was taught to submit to men. She was forced to participate in an after school work program, in order to instill "biblical work ethic." This work program including being forced to sew quilts that would sell for thousands of dollars at auction, while the students received nothing. Now she attends the University of Mississippi School of Law. She works at the MacArthur Justice Clinic, is active with the ACLU, and protested to change the Mississippi state flag. She is also the former cohost of No Religion Required and now hosts the Biskeptical podcast which discusses issues important to bisexual atheists.

adamOur final scholarship winner is Adam Manno who won the $1,000 scholarship provided by Humanists of Sarasota Bay. In addition to being a secular activist Adam is very active in the LGBTQ community. He recently won the Pride Gives Back award from Orlando PRIDE. Another of his passions is writing. He writes for his student newspaper as well as for Watermark, a local LGBTQ publication. He told us "The important thing for me is being able to use my background as a member of SSA to cover issues from a perspective not often seen in the media. That perspective is based on the crossroads of my existence. Between being a secular LGBTQ student and being a second generation Hispanic-American, a lot of hot-button issues in today's society impact me."

We're so proud of all our winners. Help us ensure we can do this again next year. We need to raise at least $5,000 in order to make that happen. To help us reach that goal, and to make your money go twice as far, one of our donors, Ron Verstappen, is matching all donations up to that $5,000 mark.

I started this with a small reference to the election. As a C3 non-profit organization we cannot become too deeply involved with politics. However it’s more important than ever that we continue our work, and give our students the power to continue to create a secular future. However you're feeling, channel that into something good, and if that means a donation to the SSA, we thank you.

And the winners are...

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We’ve picked our scholarship winners for 2016. The applicants are amazing.

Their stories will inspire you and keep you convinced that the movement for a better, more secular world will win out.

We're excited to share their stories with you… but we're not going to. At least, not yet.

First, you need to ensure that we can give out scholarships again next year.

What we can share with you now is that we’ve got a gracious donor, Ron Verstappen, who will double the first $5,000 donated to this campaign. This is the perfect time to give!

Click here and donate as much as you can; it’s worth twice as much to us!

Your gift will go directly to a scholarship for an outstanding student activist who has demonstrated the ability to create change in their community!

Scholarships

Our students have earned their scholarships. Now do your part for our movement by giving to our scholarship fund!

As donations come in, we’ll start sharing the stories of this year’s winners.

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