Student Activist Awards

Thomas Jefferson Student Activist Awardee Nicole Niebler – 2017

Nicole received a $2,000 Thomas Jefferson Student Activist Award from FFRF. This scholarship is made possible thanks to generous FFRF members, a Washington couple who prefers to remain anonymous.

By Nicole Niebler

Even though I've been an agnostic atheist since high school, I had not been exposed to any sort of activism until college. Growing up in a conservative Catholic family in suburban Milwaukee, I only started to stand up for secular values when I joined the Freethought Society at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, now known as the UW-Eau Claire Secular Student Alliance (SSA). Joining the Freethought Society instilled a drive in me to stand up for progressive values and set me on a path toward more secular activism.

My turning point for secular activism was planning an impromptu counterdemonstration to combat the hate brought to campus by inflammatory preacher "Brother Jed." Fellow SSA members and I created and held signs next to him that stated various positive messages, such as "Smile. You're beautiful!" among other secular, uplifting phrases. Although seemingly miniscule, that first event sparked my passion for secular activism.

At my first SSA conference that following summer before I transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I met officers of a group called Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics (AHA) from UW-Madison. While I had already applied for an officer position with the group, little did I know I would meet some of the most inspiring and treasured people. Their friendship, kindness and introspection would heavily impact my life.

With my graduation right around the corner, I have been the president of AHA for two years after serving as a volunteer and a service chair for a year. With AHA, I have helped the organization host several prominent speakers, lead two annual Freethought Festivals, participated in numerous weekly secular peer support meetings, and hosted more social events than I could possibly count.

The mission of AHA is to build a secular community and to promote a discussion of one's faith or lack thereof on campus. This mission is one I fully stand behind and have poured thousands of hours into fulfilling because I believe it is of utmost importance to provide welcoming secular communities for young people in a world where nonbelievers are seen as immoral, angry, pessimists and where Christianity is a necessity of being a good human being.

This unequal societal juxtaposition of immoral nonbelievers to moral Christians fuels me to continue to be an activist. Recently, I filed a complaint against a local housing complex — the Lumen House — regarding its discrimination against non-Catholics via an unfair rental scholarship for Catholics that must be signed by the priest of a Catholic church. I refuse to stand by while fellow students and citizens of Madison are discriminated against simply because they do not follow a particular religion. Everyone deserves to be treated equally, regardless of religious beliefs, affiliations or lack thereof.

Among other things, I am a humanist. I will do everything within my power to fight for what's right, whether that is providing a community for those looked down upon in society, taking a stand against discrimination and unequal treatment, or being a positive example of an agnostic atheist for friends and family members to illustrate that we can be good without God.

A native of Pewaukee, Wis., Nicole Niebler attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is pursuing a major in dietetics and a certificate of global health. In her spare time she enjoys singing and playing ukulele at open mic nights, painting, and cooking from scratch.

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