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Secular Student Alliance 2008 Best Awards

At the 2008 SSA Conference in Washington, D.C., we were happy to award the 2008 SSA Best Awards. Field Director presented the awards with these remarks.

In the past year the Secular Student Alliance has gone from 80 campus groups to 137 active affiliate groups! That's a growth of 71%. We've had more impressive groups doing impressive work on campus around the world this past year than we've had in any year before. It certainly wasn't easy picking only five groups to be awarded a Best Award!

This year, in an effort to provide more support to our most outstanding groups, we've increased the amount of money that the winners of the awards receive. Winners for best Service Project, Best Website, Best Media Appearance, and Best New Affiliate will receive $300, up from $100 in previous years. The Best Overall Affiliate will receive $500 from the SSA. This money is to recognize your group for their success this past year, and also to help you carry out further impressive projects throughout the next academic year.

Best Service Project
Congratulations to the Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on a great service project!

This group's project was to send eleven members of their group along with nineteen members of the school's Campus Crusade for Christ group to New Orleans to carry out relief work.

Chris Calvey, a member of the group who went to New Orleans on behalf of AAF, had this to say:

We were able to spend a lot of time interacting with Christian students from all over the country. Many were happy, impressed, or even shocked to find out that we were atheists. After getting to know one another, it became apparent to both sides that it's possible to put aside our philosophical differences and work together for a greater good. If we want to improve the images of atheism in this country, I can think of no better way to do it than by volunteering alongside those who might disagree with us. Complaining about the misconceptions, stereotyping, and discrimination of nonbelievers is one thing we do very well… Actually working to dispel these is another story. I am confident that our service project will have the effect of positively shaping their opinion about atheism for the rest of their lives.
UIUC and their Best Award
Members of UIUC's award-winning group: Aaron Aves, Franklin Kramer, Peter Ho, Ryan James, Heather Hanks, Ashley Carter, and Claire Wright.

Best Website
We're pleased to give the award of Best Website to the UCLA Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists! Check out their award-winning work at BruinSkeptics.org.

Bruin Website

Roy Natian, the group's founder, had this to say about his site:

Function, Function, Function! The site has to be easy to use and to update. In planning ahead for BASS's future, I wanted to make sure that we had a solid infrastructure. By making the site require minimal maintenance, I'm allowing future BASSiers to focus on the more important facets of running BASS, such as planning educational events. An added benefit of having the site be easily updateable is that the site actually gets updated!

To demonstrate this group's ambitions, it bears mentioning that within days of winning the award, the BASS website had already posted their news, along with their goal of "working on winning the other awards!"

Best Media Appearance

This group is the first international group to win one of our Best awards! The Best Media Appearance award this year goes to the Guelph Skeptics at the University of Guelph in Canada.

This group showed up in their campus newspaper once, then a second time. Then they appeared in their local city paper. Now, and most impressively, they are hosting their own radio show in Canada! It already airs in Guelph, Victoria, and Winnipeg. They're working on getting the show syndicated so they can play it across North America.

Best New Affiliate
This year's Best New Affiliate award goes to the University of Illinois at Chicago - Rationalists and Freethinkers (RAFT).

This group had fallen on hard times and has really turned things around. After all but collapsing, they secured new leadership, changed their mission statement, got new officers, and are now an amazing group. This past year they hosted Austin Dacey, author of The Secular Conscience; Hemant Mehta, chair of the SSA Board of Directors and author of I Sold My Soul on eBay; and Dan Barker, former minister and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They held an event titled "Does the Black Church really serve the Black Community" and invited the executive director of African Americans for Humanism to present on the subject. They were mentioned in the CBS piece "The Atheist Next Door" and polled UIC students on their feelings about the presidential candidates and religion (then posted these videos and opinions on YouTube). They declared a War on Truthiness (a term coined by Stephen Colbert which describes things that a person claims to know intuitively or "from the gut," without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination or facts). You can sign up for their war at warontruthiness.org. They also held several blood drives throughout the year, including those titled "Give Up Blood for Lent" and the "Vampire Feast Blood Drive" in October.

Best Overall Affiliate
Our congratulations and the Best Overall Affiliate award go to the Tufts Secular Student Association at Tufts University in Boston! They have had one truly impressive year!

Best Affiliate Award This group has had great success not only in organizing elaborate events on their own campus, but also in seeing beyond their campus to reach out to the larger humanist community in their area. Over the last nine months of the school year, they've organized a debate with Daniel Dennett and Dinesh D'Souza in conjunction with the Harvard University group (also an SSA affiliate); then they filmed the entire debate and put it up on the web (RichardDawkins.net has a great article with links). They reached out to the community to invite professors from Harvard, Tufts, and UMass to come speak to the group on animal ethics, religion, animal testing, and evolution. The group hosted prominent philosopher Rebecca Goldstein who spoke about secularism and Spinoza, and hosted Dan Barker for an event in the spring. SSA Speakers' Bureau member Ellery Schempp presented to their group about his historic 1963 Supreme Court case to remove school-sanctioned prayer from public schools.

The Tufts SSA showed up in the media! They placed articles in the school paper, and the group's president, Pat Andriola, was interviewed in the paper. Plus, the group's former president Nina Lee was quoted in the Boston Globe. They also have quite the sharp website - perhaps a contender for next year's Best Website award!

To understand the demographics of their own campus they conducted surveys of Tufts students and found that 30% of the students described themselves as "non-religious"; they then used this statistic to promote their group to students. They also organized a Coming Out as an Atheist Day on April 13th.

At the Tufts CAUSE dinner, they raised the most money of any group (raising $1,616.00) and donated this money to low income families affected by recent wildfires. Further involvement in their community included participating in meet-up events with "off-campus" humanist groups in the greater Boston area. With these and other student groups in the Boston area they co-hosted a big Darwin Day event, and they participated in the Secular Student Activism discussion panel hosted by the Greater Worcester Humanists. They worked with the Harvard group again to arrange for an event honoring Congressman Pete Stark (the first openly-Humanist and -nontheistic member of the US Congress).

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