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Meet Our Student Activist Scholarship Recipients

We are pleased to introduce some of our 2022 secular student activist scholarship recipients.  Twice as many students applied this year and we are highlighting half of our scholarship recipients in this email.

We couldn't be more proud of the secular and intersectional activism of our student leaders. What happens on high school and university campuses today is a glimpse into what will be happening in our country in the future.
 

Aiden | Temple University

Having grown up in Section 8 housing, Aiden is now a social work major at Temple University and plans to start a nonprofit organization to help people attain their basic needs and improve their socio-economic opportunities. Aiden’s mother is a minister, so the church has always been a steady presence in his life. Aiden identifies as an atheist and is a member of the Satanic Temple because of its activism for the separation of state and church.

As a trans, African American man, Aiden has seen how religion is used to oppress communities of color. On small, conservative campuses, Aiden made presentations on the Satanic Temple and the concepts of morality, focusing on reality and not the supernatural. He has also worked with mental health and anti-tobacco advocacy institutions. Aiden was a member of a nonprofit board to help low-income and minority students obtain scholarships and attend higher education. This year, Aiden will earn his ESL teaching certification and plans to volunteer to work with the immigrant community.

Aiden is the recipient of the Zora Neale Hurston Scholarship - awarded jointly by Black Nonbelievers and the Secular Student Alliance.

Alexia | Harvard University

Alexia is a Master in Education student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and her career goals focus on combating the climate crisis, specifically the disproportionate pollution and toxic chemicals communities of color are exposed to.

Growing up in Texas, Alexia experienced firsthand the consequences of religion, especially Christianity, playing a central role in shaping laws, governance, and society. As a queer woman, she questioned why politicians could make decisions based on their personal religious beliefs - which led to Alexia’s strong commitment to secularism. Her racial and cultural background play an important role in her secularism as her grandparents lived under colonization, which was a violent project partially driven by the European belief in their religious superiority and the goal of converting the world.  

In 2019, Alexia co-founded Start: Empowerment, a Queer BIPOC-led social-environmental justice educational nonprofit. She is also the co-founder of the Colorado River Conservancy, a coalition of 30 neighborhood groups to create a sustainable vision for development. As an organizer, she has worked on various campaigns including national environmental justice legislation, water rights, relocating toxic tank farms, and zoning cases with PODER, youth climate strikes, teach-ins about disability and climate with Disability Awareness Around Climate, serving as Youth Assembly Ambassador, volunteering for the AOC campaign, and organizing protests against police brutality and for Palestinian liberation with Decolonize This Place. Her education curriculum has reached over 120,000 students across the United States and her work has been recognized by the NYC Department of Education, NYU Global Awards Center, and was awarded the prestigious Brower Youth Award and Jericho Activism Prize.

Alexia’s scholarship is sponsored by the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas.

Courtney | Smithfield-Selma High School

After Courtney graduates Smithfield-Selma High School, she plans to pursue an arts degree from a university to become a gallery artist. In comparing religion and God to Santa, the Easter Bunny, and other implausible characters, Courtney realized she was an agnostic atheist in elementary school. Growing up in a small religious town, and being non-Christian, she felt personally targeted by many in her community. She says, “I believe that my secularism has influenced my life by allowing me more freedom and a more open worldview.”

Courtney expresses her secular activism through art, highlighting the importance of the separation of church and state. Her most recent art piece, “June 24”, highlights the terror of living in a post-Roe v. Wade America in which women’s rights can be dictated by a majority religion. She has completed five public murals, including one at a middle school and two murals in the town of Selma, NC, highlighting the racial diversity of that town. Courtney founded and currently runs a youth arts program, Youth In Art Initiative, advocating for the inclusion of youth in the arts. She is currently organizing a youth arts exhibition for ages 13-21 titled “Pieces of Us: An Exhibition Celebrating the Diversity of American Identity.”

Courtney’s scholarship is sponsored by the FFRF Yip Harburg Lyrics Student Awards.

Daniel | Morehouse College

A junior communications major at Morehouse College, Daniel wants to become a sports broadcaster. When Daniel was 9, his grandfather shed light on the idea that there was no higher power after Daniel’s mother was unable to answer some of his questions about Christianity. Growing up, he did not tell others that he was a nonbeliever.

Daniel says being a Black atheist is almost unheard of in his community. Today, Daniel often mentors young Black men who question religion and encourages them to be free thinkers. This semester, Daniel plans to find more Black men who have a similar mindset and create a Black secular club - starting a nonreligious student club at a Historically Black College or University is difficult.  He says it would allow more Black men and women to view life from a different spectrum and not be bound by the shackles of religion.  

Daniel is the recipient of the FFRF Cliff Richards Memorial Scholarship.

Douglas | University of California, Merced

Douglas is an environment enthusiast, a former undocumented student from Brazil, and a Portuguese and Spanish language interpreter. He graduated from Modesto Junior College. Currently a full-time environmental engineering student at UC Merced, he plans to make an impact in water management and conservation.
 
In Brazil, Douglas grew up as a Catholic.  After moving to the United States, a friend questioned him about the bible. This eventually led him to question his faith.  The Atheist Experience and The Thinking Atheist podcast made Douglas realize he was not alone.  Attending the American Atheist Convention in Salt Lake City gave him new inspiration to do as many good things in the world as possible just for the sake of being good. Douglas identifies as a secular humanist and agnostic atheist.   
 
Douglas chose to go to the University of California Merced because it was the only school in the central valley that offered his environmental engineering major and also having an SSA chapter was a big plus. However, when he started in the fall, the chapter officers had just graduated. To find a secular community and continue the legacy of the chapter, Douglas restarted the chapter and became the president. The chapter will be working with Planned Parenthood, LGBT+ organizations, and organizing a campus blood drive.  Douglas says, “the work that SSA does is crucial to our community’s representation in the university environment because many students are for the first time exposed to anywhere outside their inter-circle and develop critical thinking.  

Douglas’ scholarship is sponsored by Atheists United, Humanist Association of Orange County, Inland Empire Atheists Agnostics and Humanists, Americans United Orange County Chapter, and the Humanists of Santa Barbara.

We are honored to work with amazing student leaders. We hope that you will join us in supporting secular students across the country. 
Donate Now And Your Donation Will Be Doubled, Up To $10,000

Dustin | Roane State Community College

Dustin attended Roane State Community College as a political science major and is now at Tennessee Tech University. Dustin plans to attend law school for a career in constitutional law and immigration law, lobbying for legislation concerning victims’ rights, non-discrimination provisions, government transparency, free expression, and environmental conservation. 

At the age of 14, Dustin identified as an atheist. He was raised with non-practicing Christian parents who allowed him to explore religion without pressure. As a queer and non-binary person, Dustin has faced ridicule and judgment from both religious and secular communities. Having been a survivor of discrimination and abuse, Dustin understands that secular activism cannot be limited to state/church separation and religious freedom, but it must also include LGBTQIA+ equality, gender equality, racial equality, and criminal justice reform.

Over the past year, Dustin has been involved in challenging state/church violations ranging from school-sponsored prayers to an incident of school-sponsored Bible distribution in public schools. Dustin is a volunteer at the Avalon Center, a local organization dedicated to assisting victims and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, and writes newspaper articles raising awareness about sexual assault, modern-day slavery, and human trafficking.  

Dustin’s scholarship is sponsored by the Rationalists of East Tennessee.

 

Elise | Tulsa Community College

Elise is a college sophomore majoring in graphic design and sociology. When she was young, she believed in the Christian teachings of her family. In middle school, when a friend came out as bisexual, Elise began to question her Christain beliefs, especially the ones that approved of homophobia. Even after learning every Christian does not approve of homophobia, she later became an atheist and joined her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance that advocated for LGBT+ equality.
 
Today, Elise has examined the internalized hatred towards LGBT+ in certain parts of the Asian community. She is an advocate for the separation of church and state (especially with the overturning of Roe v Wade), fighting for reproductive health care, LGBT+ civil rights, and humane treatment of immigrants.  

Elise’s scholarship is sponsored by Oklahoma Atheists.
 

Isaiah | Austin Community College

At Austin Community College, Isaiah served as the Student Body President, a member of Phi Theta Kappa, and a Commissioner with the city of Austin on the College Student Commission as well as the Human Rights Commission. Isaiah served as a legislative intern with a state legislature and as a congressional intern with the U.S. House of Representatives. Isaiah will graduate with an associate of arts in government, plans to go to law school, and is currently working on starting a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to the unhoused population, LGBT+ youth, and all others that are in need of humanitarian services and support. In his spare time, Isaiah volunteers for poverty alleviation and engages in public service to help be the change that he wishes to see. 

During high school, Isaiah successfully challenged Birdville Independent School District and Lake Dallas Independent School Districts’ unconstitutional announcements of church activities during their football games with help from the American Humanist Association. He also successfully challenged Birdville Independent School District for allowing school administrators to participate in Baccalaureate ceremonies, having their retreats in church, and having cross displays in the classroom. Isaiah is an advocate for the separation of the church and the state and religious freedom and believes that the government should always remain neutral when it comes to religion and that the government should never favor religion over non-religion or any religion over another.  

Isaiah is the recipient of the FFRF Al Luneman Student Activist Award.

Jacqueline | University of Texas at San Antonio

A senior at the University of Texas San Antonio, Jacqueline grew up as a “hardcore Christian,” but felt incomplete and never good enough. What started as a physiological question “Why is there a god who wants his people to feel worthless without him?” lead to a deconversion from religion. Jacqueline sees herself as a humanist and an atheist. 

Jacqueline expresses her secular activism the most as a veteran and a mother. Many military members use church service as a way of being seen as “good” and promotable. As a way to support active duty atheists, she explained, “I am saying loudly that I am atheist.” As an atheist mother in the Bible belt, her son has been judged and ridiculed for their nonbelief. “I remind him that he is loved, always, and there is no deity needed for him to be secure in that knowledge.”
 
Jacqueline protested when children were being locked in cages apart from their parents in Texas, when Planned Parenthood clinics closed, at Black Lives Matter marches, at Pride in support of LGBT+ civil rights, and when Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Jacqueline’s scholarship is sponsored by Houston Oasis. 

Jacs | University of Texas at Austin

As a psychology major at the University of Texas at Austin, Jacs plans on earning a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and conducting research in order to improve and de-eugenacize the current methods of “therapies” for neurodivergence like autism and ADHD.  Raised in rural Texas, Jacs was taught to be a good Baptist, but as an autistic child, her love for logic had her questioning religion from the beginning. Secular figures like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan influenced her evolution into a strongly secular person.
 
In high school, Jacs was involved with the Girls in STEM club, debate team, and Save Planet Earth Club. She created a TikTok channel on autism, how autism affects women, and the unfairness towards women in the community. She also plans to launch a nonprofit based on autism and those who are underrepresented and overshadowed in the autism community. Later this year, Jacs looks forward to voting for a new Governor of Texas who supports reproductive health care and the separation of state and church.  

Jacs’ scholarship is sponsored by the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas.

Jamie | University of South Florida

Jamie is a psychology major at the University of South Florida. As a psychologist, she hopes to promote access to quality mental health care and fight against pseudoscience. Her family was Catholic, but never really went to church. The hypocrisy of the church led Jamie to be agnostic. As a Black first-generation immigrant, Jamie knows how many Caribbean-Black people were forced into Christianity. 

Jamie is a former Vice President of the American Medical Student Association and advocates for mental health care and awareness of medical racism. Mental health care is often seen as a sign of weakness in nonwhite communities. Jamie plans to start a Secular Student Alliance chapter to create a space where like-minded students can be themselves without feeling shame or judgment.  

Jamie’s scholarship is sponsored by the Florida Humanist Association. 

Donate Now And Your Donation Will Be Doubled, Up To $10,000

Jeremiah | Columbia University

Jeremiah is an economics-political science major at Columbia University with the initial career goal of working as an Assistant Prosecutor at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. His secular identity can be summed up as “quixotic agnostic anti-theistic evolutionist humanist egalitarian crusader on a mission to save the world.” Secularism is a grounding force and he is now dedicated to fighting against the exploitative practices through which Christo-Fascists extract more and more power.

Jeremiah grew up in a poor, mixed-race household that was not religious, but various Christian groups would indoctrinate children by offering latchkey programs and free Summer day camp. His aunt and mother were persecuted by their own elementary school teachers for refusing to participate in the pledge of allegiance 

Jeremiah participated in Secular Day at the Capitol in Arizona, worked on political campaigns for secular candidates, and has written about the rise of the religious right and how it has formed the contemporary conservative movement. He was a member of Amnesty International, Anti-Racist Action, Students for a Free Tibet, and recently with Equality for GS at Columbia University.  

Jeremiah’s scholarship is sponsored by the Secular Student Alliance.

Jonathon | Howard University

As a second-year history doctoral student at Howard University, Jonathon’s goal is to be an anti-racist Professor of History specializing in Black History. He joined the Marine Corps after enduring an extremely brutal and abusive childhood. In boot camp, Jonathon became religious because he thought it would help him deal with his heavy drinking and eventually the trauma he endured as an infantryman and Gulf War veteran.

After being discharged, he entered the University of Cincinnati and got involved in the International Churches of Christ. After eleven years, he left this abusive and manipulative group. His next two religious experiences were traumatic as well. At the next church he joined, the baptist minister equated homosexuality with ‘gambling’ and ‘drunkenness.’ The last church he attended was a liberal and all-white unitarian church. He was thrown out when he challenged the leadership on segregation.

As an undergraduate, Jonathon found a Black Studies Club to advocate for a Black Studies major at Northern Kentucky University and to hire professors to teach in the discipline. He reflects on his past work by elaborating, “After college, I participated in the Occupy Wall Street Movement in 2011 and co-founded the Black Lives Matter Cincinnati Chapter in 2014.” Involved with the secular community and in several groups in Cincinnati, Jonathon has protested at the ARK Encounter in Northern Kentucky and the March for Science every year of the Trump administration.  

Jonathon’s scholarship is sponsored by The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

Joseph | Missouri University of Science and Technology

Pursuing his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and aviation from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, Joseph would like to work for space exploration companies, such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and NASA. 

Even though he was raised by a Catholic mother and Methodist father, Joseph has always been an atheist, approaching how he sees the world analytically and scientifically. In grade school, he was made fun of and secluded simply for not believing in a god. Growing up in Missouri, he did not have secular role models or a secular community. 

Being a straight, white man, he was often stereotyped as anti-LGBTQ+, anti-BLM, and other negative connotations aligned closely with extreme Christianity. As Joseph actively tried to distance himself from these associations, it further pushed him away from religion. “My atheism encourages much of my secular voting activity, such as keeping religion out of school, taking things like ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ off of government buildings and American currencies, and the anti-position on the separation of church and state.”

Joseph’s scholarship is sponsored by The Rationalist Society Of Saint Louis.

Kaysyn | Florida State University

A freshman student pursuing commercial entrepreneurship at Florida State University, Kaysyn intends to go to the Howard University School of Law to pursue nonprofit work in the public sector. Attending evangelical churches in Northeastern Pennsylvania at a young age. Kaysyn says, “I found a distinct sense of dissonance in the actions described by the Christian God from narrative to narrative. I came to find value in a secular point of view because it allowed me to focus on what was truly important: public service and activism.” 
 
As a Black lesbian individual, Kaysyn realized religion was often used as a tool of colonization and control, designed to strip away culture and voices, especially in the lives of Black women. She participated in rallies to remove prayer from schools, change the names of schools names for Confederate generals, and support abortion rights. Kaysyn was an executive director of the Black Art student organization and student contributor and intern at the African American History Summer Writing Institute.
 
Besides supporting protests and movements centering on the freedom to live secularly, such as those supporting abortion rights and cutting prayer from schools, she also advocated within the Black Art organization at her school to change the pre-performance prayer circle to a mindfulness circle so as to not isolate or ostracize non-Christian students.

Kaysyn’s scholarship is sponsored by The Humanists of North Central Florida.

Please support the next generation of secular leaders. 

Donate Now And Your Donation Will Be Doubled, Up To $10,000
Thank you to all of our local atheist, humanist, and freethought groups that sponsor scholarships. This year, we continue to award the Hurston Scholarship, in partnership with Black Nonbelievers; the Dr. Hector Avalos Scholarship, in partnership with Hispanic American Freethinkers; and several scholarships in partnership with Freedom From Religion Foundation: the Yip Harburg Lyrics Foundation Student Awards and the Cliff Richards Memorial Student Activist Awards.
Copyright © 2022 Secular Student Alliance, All rights reserved.


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