Saturday, September 21, 2013

Success at the Carolinas Secular Student Summit

by Christi Sevits

This past weekend, four of our five officers and a new member attended the 3rd Carolinas Secular Student Summit, a conference where secular students from across the Carolinas come out to meet each other, exchange ideas, and learn new ways to strengthen and increase the activity of their campus' group.

In all, there were fifty registered attendees, some of which ended up not making it. Schools that were represented (other than UNCG, of course) were UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Pembroke, College of Charleston, Apex High School, and the conference's host school, NC State.

There were many excellent speakers in attendance that really galvanized us. Dr. Darrel Ray, author of Sex and God as well as The God Virus, led a workshop on leadership as well as a special session that was easily the most popular segment of the conference, called Sex and Secularism. Local freethinker Todd Stiefel also led a presentation on leadership. Secular Student Alliance's Regional Coordinator for the Southeast region Gordon Maples provided tips on how Secular Student Alliance (SSA) can help your group with basically anything - event planning, requesting funds, booking speakers, and how to get a group started. Harry Shaughnessy of the Triangle Freethought Society, which is located in Raleigh,  provided useful tips on how to successfully fundraise. SSA Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Southeast Kelley Freeman offered advice on good social media practices.

Students were also included in the speaker line-up. President of the NC State SSA chapter Nick Freeman, Vice President Jackie Fitzgerald, and Max Nielsen, the principal plaintiff of the Nielsen v. Lex/Rich School District 5 lawsuit that is challenging the constitutionality of graduation prayer, offered their own insights into what makes a successful secular student group.

The responses from the attendees in our group were overwhelmingly positive. "I would say that the conference was a fantastic way to spend my weekend. Not only did I get to reconnect with people I have met before, I also got to meet new and amazing people. It was wonderful to hear and discuss about all sorts of topics regarding to secularism and how to grow as an individual and as a group, and as a community. It was a great weekend and I cannot wait for the next one," group secretary Ryan Campbell recalls. 

President Julia Alexander agrees, exclaiming, "It was just a fantastic, wonderful experience meeting and connecting with so many new people, both in collegiate groups and off-campus groups. I came away not only overflowing with ideas, but an inspiration, motivation, and can-do attitude to get them done, where before I felt a little overwhelmed with getting things done. I will probably want to continue coming to these even after I graduate."

The huge success of the summit this year left us anticipating an even greater time at the next one.  Those of us who went will never forget the experience and look forward to encouraging more members to go next year -  it'll be more than worth it!

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