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Congratulations On Your Scholarship, Sam!

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Sam Erickson grew up in a very Christian household, but was never a true believer: he went to church to please his parents, but at age thirteen opened up about his non-belief to his family and friends. He now identifies as an Agnostic Atheist and a Secular Humanist. He is a Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying economics and political science, and is planning to either attend law school or further his study of economics in graduate school.

samLast December Sam was elected President of Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (AHA!) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, after serving as Outreach Chair since June of 2013. The work he has done as a part of this organization is his proudest activist accomplishment!

AHA! has the largest budget ever received by a secular student organization, clocking in at over $61,000 for the 2014-2015 school year. Sam was pivotal in the groups’ success securing funding this year, and is working to secure that level of funding for his group for the next two years.

This budget allows Sam and AHA! to create incredible events, such as peppering the center of their campus with supportive, positive messages, being one of the pioneers in running Graveyard of the Gods last year, and even putting up a Flying Spaghetti Monster display at the Wisconsin State Capitol to accompany religious displays. These events have given Sam and his group excellent media exposure, including being featured on a national radio show and quoted in a front page Huffington Post article!

Congratulations On Your Scholarship, Candace!

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Candace Banks is a graduate student at Louisiana State University in communication sciences and disorders. She is specifically interested in language acquisition and development in children with African American Vernacular English as their primary language, how it operates as a distinct language, and what methods can be used to identify whether true developmental deficits are present in a child or whether they are developing normally but differently due to their language, dialect, background, or socioeconomic standing.

CandaceCandace aims to work in the school system to prevent the misdiagnosis of speech disorders due to racial or ethnic background, and treat preschool and elementary school students with speech disorders, and plans to eventually establish a community outreach center that will provide mental health, speech disorder, literacy, and cultural enrichment services.

Candace comes from a fundamentalist Church of Christ background that was very strict and dogmatic. She says that she grew up an anxious person and was always on edge because any move she made would be in disobedience to her father and god. Every decision she made was one that had to be evaluated and reevaluated, then prayed upon by the entire family and sometimes the entire church.

Even when she moved four hours away to a special school, she could not escape the church; when she did not attend services, her family was called, and the consequences of her so-called delinquency would range from a verbal lashing to withdrawal of financial support, to threats of making her move back home. However, being at this school allowed her to meet students of different faith and non-faith backgrounds, including some atheists, who were not nearly as menacing as she had been taught to believe.

Our 2014 Scholarship Recipients!

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Throughout the month of September, secular student activists shared their stories with us in hopes of winning one of the SSA’s first ever Scholarships for Student Activists. We sorted through many fantastic stories of activism, with students sharing their stories of everything from interfaith and intersectional work to phenomenal stories of group running success.

Today, we are thrilled to announce our five recipients! A big congratulations to Candace Banks, Sam Erickson, Kendall Lovely, Jeremy Sanchez, and Frank Skiff on their awards! Below is a short summary of their stories: be on the lookout next week for more in-depth stories.

Thank you so much to all of the students who applied for this award: choosing only five winners was tough for everyone involved. We are excited to see this program grow in the future!

Hundreds of students to pay homage to dead gods this week

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CincinnatiCampuses all over the United States are looking a little extra spooky this week and it's not just because of Halloween — Secular Student Alliance affiliate groups are setting up their own Graveyards of the Gods! These displays are homages to lost and forgotten gods worshipped in past civilizations. 

Graveyard of the Gods is an opportunity to demonstrate that there are thousands upon thousands of gods out there, and most of them are no longer worshipped, essentially debunking a common argument used against atheists: Pascal's Wager. 

Blaise Pascal's Wager offers two options; believe in a god, or don't. If one chooses not to believe in a god and is incorrect, then they have the most to lose. Those who choose to believe in a god and are correct have the most to gain and the least to lose. However, Pascal's Wager doesn't account for which god one should worship - it otherassumes only one possible god (out of thousands) to bet on. 

Ultimately, Graveyard of the Gods points to the past to question how long the gods of the present will last. There are gods of yesteryear that many people have never even heard of — will that be the case for today's gods in 1000 years? 

Some groups have had their displays vandalized, such as the Individuals for Freethought at Texas A&M University, where the signs had 'He Reigns Here' written over their signs explaining what the display was, as well as the signs advertising their group. However, despite the ire that this event draws, Graveyards of the Gods has become one of the biggest events affiliate groups participate in.

"This is the most participation we've ever had for a new event," says Nick Stancato, Affiliate Program Manager of the Secular Student Alliance, "It's been really exciting to see how many different campuses are participating and what kinds of stuff they have come up with!" 

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