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Darwin Week 2012 (Presented by University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers)

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In February 2012, University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers were able to host their Darwin Week event thanks to a Project Grant from the national SSA. This article summarizes the experiences of that event for the group.

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This past February, we at the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers hosted our fourth annual Darwin Week event; an educational lecture series and a celebration of science, reason and critical thinking in honor of the birthday of Charles Darwin. This year, Darwin Week was marked by the topics of skepticism, sexuality, diversity, and origins. Each day we hosted relevant lectures from faculty, staff, and an evening keynote speaker. In all we hosted a panel discussion with students from fellow student groups, four student research presentations, eleven talks hosted by faculty and staff of the university, as well as four topic keynotes.


We were glad to have the opportunity to bring a variety of notable keynote speakers to create a truly once in a lifetime educational opportunity for the students at our university. For Skepticism Day we had Dr. Joe Nickell, renowned investigator from the Center for Inquiry, for Sexuality Day we had Dr. Clint Kelly, a sexual selection researcher from Iowa State University, and for Diversity Day we had Jamila Bey, a journalist and speaker on the topic of race and religion from Washington, D.C. For our final Origins Day keynote, we were grateful to have Dr. Lawrence Krauss, the eminent theoretical physicist and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University.

Darwin Week really speaks to our group’s mission “to foster a welcoming environment for skeptics and non-believers, to encourage an open and involved dialogue on secular issues and rational thought, and to reach out to the community on matters important to all freethinking individuals.” With Darwin Week, we’re able to bring together students and the community to hear about subjects they might not otherwise outside of a classroom. The response from the community has been amazing, and we received hundreds of enthusiastic responses from attendees.

We also introduced new technology this year to reach broader audiences online. We live streamed each lecture and were able to upload the content to YouTube more quickly after the event due to improvements in our process and new equipment. In terms of total attendance and viewers, we had a four-fold increase over the prior year. We filled over 1200 seats during the event, had over 1000 viewers on the live stream and as of this writing the Lawrence Krauss video online has been viewed close to 2500 times. Finally, we were ecstatic to have broken last year’s records for attendance of a single talk when we completely filled our reserved space for Lawrence Krauss – we had over 200 attend the final keynote.

KraussNone of this would have been possible without the contribution of the Secular Student Alliance, whose grants help ensure that our group can continue to hold high quality events. One of our key uses of SSA funding is to cover the cost of promotion shirts we sell at $3 or $5. Again we broke records by selling over 200 shirts during the event to promote our group and Darwin Week 2012. Over 150 shirts were sold with the iconic Darwin Week “atomic glasses” logo and our sponsors on the back, and we sold out in one day a smaller order of shirts we made for our Origins Day speaker, with a quote from his talk on the back: “It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded… So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.”

We’re glad to have the support of our peers in the national secular movement, and in particular the SSA’s support and contribution this year were invaluable to us.

Thank you, Secular Student Alliance, from the community at the University of Northern Iowa, and the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers.

This article was written by the members of UNIFI.

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