The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

CFI Student Leadership Conference 2013 – A Reflection

CFI Con 2013

Every summer Center For Inquiry hosts a student leadership conference for the leaders of secular groups throughout the country. With relish I was able to attend with a friend, officer, and blogger, Tony Lakey. During our 14-hour drive I had the pleasure of making friends with our gracious rideshare, the organizers of a blossoming student group in St.Louis MO, Freethought SIUE. After meeting together outside the St.Louis Science Center a full day in advance, our party disembarked on our overnight journey.

Fresh as an Ohio morning.

Fresh as an Ohio morning.

Nearly 12 hours after we began our voyage bright rays of sun streaked out over the tree line of rolling Ohio farmlands. Our cumulative excitement for the conference grew stronger as high levels of caffeine coursed through our veins.  Laughter shook our bodies as we deliriously played trivia games with nothing but asinine responses. Truth be told, even while we became collectively more tired, our excitement grew with every mile.

We timed our arrival to CFI just in time for a pizza lunch and then a well needed nap. The welcoming reception kicked off the conference that afternoon as people, young and old, filed their ways into the building.

Goddamn, we look good.

Goddamn, we look good.

This was my second journey to CFI for the Student leadership conference and I was very much looking forward to every moment of it. The conference offers a great wealth of educational, training, networking, and learning opportunities. Every day different speakers presented on a variety of topics with the purposes of teaching and cultivating new skills. After each event speakers were given the chance of answering questions from the audience allowing dialogues to continue outside of scheduled engagements.

Sikivu Hutchinson sets it straight

Sikivu Hutchinson sets it straight.

More than once I was moved to tears over the passionate discourse of different speakers. The passionate professings of Sikivu Hutchinson. Vlad Chituc and Robby Bensinger appeared on a panel discussion of about debating religion on campus. Nick Cooney’s presented on a book with his revelations on social change.  James Croft the Harvard graduate and Humanist, dashing director of CFI’s office of Public policy Michael De Dora, and labor organizer and skeptical activism workshopper Desiree Schell were just a few of the many fantastic speakers at the conference.

Even Humanists like James Croft enjoy Star Trek.

Even Humanists like James Croft enjoy Star Trek.

For four entire days, I awoke to coffee, bagels, and intelligent discourse. I honestly felt like I was somewhere in low-earth orbit. Being surrounded by the smartest, most dedicated and talented batch of college students, activists and leaders that the US has to offer (and several Canadian students, eh) was an experience that left me dazed but anxious for more. Between talks I met many different people with many different stories and backgrounds. Everyone brought different skills and talents to the table even if they were just excitement and willingness to harness recently acquired knowledge.

Every evening, we returned to the dorms on University of Buffalo’s campus for either some shuteye or late night socializing. It was not an uncommon occurrence catching speakers and students candidly chatting in dorm rooms and hallways, hearing heated debates, raucous laughter, or the strum of a guitar strings late into the night. By the end of each night, sometimes near sunrise, everyone was spent but ready to get up and start again.
During the conference awards were presented to many student groups in attendance.To both Tony’s and my own surprise SASHA was awarded for our activism in defense of the Bangladeshi bloggers. (pictured above) You can read more about the event here.

As my time at the conference drew closer and closer to an end grew anxious and sad to know I would be leaving. I look forward to attending the conference in the future as student and activist. I can only imagine the growth and change I’ll see in our movement the next time I am in NY.


CFI hosted us students as a community and I walked away from the conference feeling like I just became part of another family. A larger family and perhaps a global family. 


5 comments on “CFI Student Leadership Conference 2013 – A Reflection

  1. rocketkirchner
    August 5, 2013

    Aaron , sounds like you all had a good time , fun summer activity . One must ask oneself in any freethinking movement , be it the 18th century Age of Enlightenment or now is this question — if one is in a movement, is the existent individual thinking for themselves or that which is the consensus of the movement ? is there dissent in the movement ? if there is no dissent but the movement ends up in Orwellian uniformity to variuos concepts , ideas , beliefs , etc.. does that not negate Mill’s theory of ”the collision of ideas brings about truth ” ….?

    it has been my experience that only being an indivudual with such questions is truly a free thinker that has fallen between the cracks historically of what has been known as the free thinkers movements . A connundrum indeed.

    • aaronunderwood
      August 5, 2013

      I think if you were to simply ask the secular/freethinker/whathaveyou movement a fairly mainstream question you would likely find that there is not a uniform consensus across the board. Let me cite a recent conflict that is boiling right now in our sphere. The Ohio Holocaust memorial has is an ongoing focus of debate among our movement. Of course this is just one of the many, nearly endless, examples I could give you. As of yet, even after watching the entire video, I still cannot make up my mind of which side I am on. I should note that prior to really hearing more in depth discussion I was against it entirely. Now I am really not sure if I am for or against it for a number of reasons.

      You can check out what I’m referencing over at Dan Fincke’s blog.

      • aaronunderwood
        August 5, 2013

        I should extrapolate that much of my goals in our movement is to ensure that dissent, even if very poorly done, is a very important aspect of a free and freethinking society.

      • rocketkirchner
        August 6, 2013

        Aaron , thank you for your reply . it sounds like you are moving in a healthy direction . it is work to hold 2 opposing thoughts in one’s mind at the same time , but well worth it . all the best. Rocket

  2. Pingback: NonProphet Status » Blog Archive » So I’m probably not quitting atheism

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