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Our $2,500 Scholarship 2015 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 second annual 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.

We are thrilled to announce the winners of our $2,500 scholarships! A big congratulations to Amber Barnhill, Matt Enloe, Buxi Iacobone, and Amanda Scott

Amber Barnhill is the winner of our former fundamentalist prize. She is a student at Lamar University in Texas and a former Independent Fundamental Baptist. She graduated from seminary and then tutored inner-city Chicago youth for five years, went on missions trips, and lived in Mexico where she taught missionary children. She was taught that God despises education and women who work outside the church or home, but after becoming a mother, her beliefs and priorities changed. Following the birth of her second child, Amber wrote down a plan to end her abusive marriage, get real job until her kids were in school, and then take on college. She is currently in her second semester at Lamar University. She is pursuing a degree in Sociology and Mathematics. 

Amber identifies as an atheist even though she feels like labels don't really define who a person is. Last semester, Amber organized an Ask an Atheist day at her campus with the Lamar University Secular Student Alliance and came out publicly as an atheist for the first time. The local reporter covering their event ended up running a story focusing on Amber and how religious bullying led her to be more open about atheism. 

Before Amber was involved with the Secular Student Alliance, she spoke out about separation of church and state when her four-year-old son's public school teacher had a 'repeat after me' prayer and and tried to convert him to Christianity behind her back. Amber was still a Christian at that point. She had never heard of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but was directed to them and had them send a letter. She had no idea what she was getting into by speaking out publicly. Amber was ostracized, bullied, threatened, and even lost her job.

Going back to school last semester has helped Amber regain some normalcy and her activism lead her to find the secular community which helped her process what she was going through, evaluate her values and ideologies, and understand why religious equality is so important. Last year, she ended up reporting her child's school for a long list of church-state violations. Even though she did so anonymously, they figured out who reported them, and started treating Amber like an enemy. Amber was even verbally accosted in the school library and in front of her children. At the end of the year, she wrote an open letter to the district and read it at the school board meeting. The religious bullying in this district is almost unbelievable, but the battle isn't over yet.

Congratulations, Amber! We are so proud of the work you have done, and we wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors! 

Matt Enloe is a student at the University of Chicago Law School, and a former president of Advocates for Freethought & Skepticism at Oregon State. He helped the group more than triple in size and established leadership structures to help it sustain itself for generations to come. During his time leading AFS, Matt established multiple campus events with wide recognition including Ask An Atheist, Darwin Day, Street Preacher Bingo, and the first-ever student debate with the Socratic Club on his campus. One of the best events was regular volunteering at the Human Services Resource Center on campus, where his group organized and distrubuted food donations to those in need. Matt gained a reputation for his activism, and the campus paper even called him a  "superhero." They coined the name "The DiploMatt," and it stuck! People would recognize him around campus and thank him.  Matt intends to become a Secular Celebrant and offer that service in Chicago! 

Buxi Iacobone is a student at Columbus State Community College. Buxi received her BS in Geography from Ohio University in 2013, but is back in school to eventually pursue medical school and become an abortion provider. Buxi was an active member of COUNT – Central Ohio United Non-Theists. COUNT is an atheist volunteering group that takes part in a variety of community projects to spread the word that people can be “Good without God.” During her active membership, she gave her time to tree planting initiatives, fundraisers for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, and other great causes. In addition to COUNT, Buxi has been involved in  activism, including SlutWalk events, anti-harassment chalkings, and #BlackLivesMatter marches. 

Of her activism she says, "My effort to train and become an abortion provider is an attempt to USE my passion to put food on the table; to free up time for activism by combining my goals and my work into one."

Amanda Scott is a well-known name due to her activism over the last few years. She got her start in May 2014 by orgaizing the Alabama Rally for Secular Government at the Alabama State Capitol, which was attended by over 200 people! Following that, Amanda coordinated public testimony before the Mobile County Commission against a proposed resolution to display "In God We Trust" in Mobile Government Plaza. In spring 2015, she volunteered to be a co-coordinator and media representative for the United Coalition of Reason's billboard campaign. Last month, Amanda was elected to the Youth Advisory Committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. She has also been heavily involved in LGBTQ rights activism. She founded her own nonprofit organization called Mobile Equality, whose first campaign was for a nondiscrimination city ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. They were also part of the fight to defeat Alabama House Bill 56, which would have allowed state judges to refuse to solemnize marriages based on religious objections. Amanda is currently enrolled at Faulkner Community College, but intends to apply for internships in Washington, D.C. focusing on public service and secular advocacy. 

Read about our $1,000 scholarship winners here

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