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SSA Announces 2010 Best Awards Winners


by Leslie A. Zukor

Congratulations to the winners of the 2009-10 Secular Student Alliance Best Awards!

Each year, the SSA gives out five awards to groups that have excelled in particular facets of activism and campus involvement. This year, we had a record number of applicants; we got nearly 30 excellent entries. The awards include a $300 cash prize for each group, and Affiliate of the Year merits $500. The money is to be spent on winning clubs' future events, and the award recipients get a sweet plaque.

Best Award Winners 2009
Winners of the 2009 Best Awards at the SSA's 2009 Annual Conference

This year, we awarded Affiliate of the Year to the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers (UNIFI), Best Community to the University of Oregon Alliance of Happy Atheists (AHA!), and Best Activism to the Macquarie University Atheist League. The University of Utah's Secular Humanism, Inquiry, and Freethought (SHIFT) and the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue won Best Educator and Best Service Project, respectively.

Affiliate of the Year: University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers

UNIFI had several secular successes, including the group's annual Darwin Week. During Darwin Week 2010, the group put on fourteen events to raise awareness about science and reason, filling over 750 seats in the process. UNIFI's speakers included such personalities as Dr. Hector Avalos and famed blogger PZ Myers. In addition to Darwin Week, the University of Northern Iowa club hosted a Know Your Arguments series, as well as a monthly Faith Forum. The events have done a great job of educating community members about the importance of evolution, as well as common arguments presented against this scientifically-based viewpoint.

In addition to hosting speakers, UNIFI has been involved in secularist activism in a number of other ways. For example, the group got national media attention for its Blasphemy Day events, including coverage on Ray Comfort's own blog. Furthermore, the Freethinkers and Inquirers maintained a large presence at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteer effort, sending fifteen members to perform community service. The group also raised over $500 in the local Relay For Life. UNIFI has also carved out a welcoming space for secular events, including Sunday Brunches and weekly dinners. For these reasons, the SSA is proud to award its Affiliate of the Year for 2010 to the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers.

Best Community: University of Oregon's Alliance of Happy Atheists
The winner of this year's Best Community Award was the Alliance of Happy Atheists (AHA!). This University of Oregon club has been particularly impressive at building an open, welcoming, and cohesive atmosphere at its meetings. The end result is that the atheist club has been a place where non-theistic individuals can find a supporting and caring network of friends, something often seen only at religious meetings. Among AHA!'s community building activities are a group prom, a campus-wide scavenger hunt, and an AHA! Relay For Life team, among other activities.

The group also serves the University of Oregon community by providing a safe haven for secularists. As a result of the AHA!'s presence, non-theistic study breaks are available, as well as post-meeting pizza excursions, and picnics and barbecues. And the Alliance of Happy Atheists gets more than just a few attendees at its social events; the AHA! regularly has a community of 50+ people in attendance. In addition to drawing so many people from the University of Oregon, AHA! has been successful in recruiting students from a local community college, as well as from surrounding areas. We are pleased to award our Best Community Award to the Alliance of Happy Atheists!

Best Activist: Macquarie University Atheist League
The SSA has the privilege of awarding its 2010 Best Activist Award to Macquarie University's Atheist League. This marks the first time since the inception of the Best Awards in 2004 that a winner has come from outside of North America; Macquarie University is located in Australia. And the club has succeeded in activism in more ways than one! Not only was the Atheist League able to host a debate this academic year; the group spearheaded three. In one debate, Dan Barker squared off against Dr. Greg Clarke, who co-founded the Centre for Public Christianity in Australia. In the second debate, Barker argued against a Biblical scholar who specializes in early Christianity.

Macquarie's most impressive debate was between Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, and Dan Barker. The debate got campus-wide attention when it was recorded by the university and featured on the front page of the school's website. In addition to the local attention, this debate was recorded by ABC for its national program, "Encounter." The Atheist League's other major accomplishment was successfully getting Macquarie University to define itself as an explicitly secular institution. This was achieved via an extensive lobbying campaign on the part of the Atheist League.

Best Educator: University of Utah SHIFT
The SSA chose the University of Utah's SHIFT (Secular Humanism, Inquiry and Freethought) for its Best Educator Award. This Utah club's efforts at educating the community are impressive, to say the very least. Last fall, SHIFT put together a wildly successful talk about health care with Representative Brian King, which the club followed with a movie screening of Sicko. As a result of the event, club members learned about how the health care debate interacted with secular values.

In addition, SHIFT educated the community with a lecture and movie for Carl Sagan Day. Another compelling event was the group's hosting geneticist and artist, Dr. Daniel Fairbanks. Fairbanks not only explained Darwin Day; he also sculpted a bust of the notable freethinker, which SHIFT donated to the university to be placed on exhibit. After hosting Fairbanks, SHIFT welcomed noted freethinker Austin Dacey to give a presentation about blasphemy and host a debate with a philosophy professor. These accomplishments make the SSA proud to award its Best Educator award to Utah's SHIFT.

Best Service Project: The Society of Nontheists at Purdue University
The Secular Student Alliance awarded its Best Service Project Award to the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue. The group partook in a number of community service efforts, including supporting a local food bank, cleaning up trash, and raising money to send an atheist to church. For the food bank, the Society of Non-Theists collected nearly 100 pounds of food as part of the university's fall food drive. Then, the group cleaned up roughly 20 bags of trash as part of beautifying the grounds around campus.

In addition, the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue raised $360 to send an atheist to church. Inspired by Hemant Mehta's "selling his soul on eBay," the club collected money to send its members to a worship service. The group provided a number of collection jars, and each was filled with money to vote for a particular denomination. The church with the most in its jar would be the place where club members would visit, and all the proceeds were donated to a local food bank. Purdue's efforts not only led to the raising of $360 and visiting of twelve churches; they also received local media coverage. We are pleased to present our 2010 Best Service Project Award to the Purdue Non-Theists!

Our congratulations go out to all the applicants and winners! We look forward to presenting these awards on July 24 at the SSA's 2010 Annual Conference.

 Leslie A. Zukor is the founder and former president of the Reed Secular Alliance, as well as the driving force behind the Freethought Books Project. She currently serves on the Secular Student Alliance's Board of Directors. Zukor, the recipient of the 2010 American Atheists Founders Scholarship for her non-theist activism, is also a photographer whose work has been published on the front cover of The Humanist. She aspires to a career in wildlife photography and/or investigative journalism.

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