Darwin Week

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  • This year, Darwin Week will feature speakers from UNI, as well as other Iowa institutions. The lectures have also featured notables such as Lawrence Krauss in past years.

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UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers’ (UNIFI) annual Darwin Week will kick off today, Feb. 12, and lectures centered on religion, science and healthy skepticism will continue until Feb. 15.

“[It’s] no different than going to a really cool class,” said UNIFI president and senior psychology major Oliverio Covarrubias. “It gives students time to pick and choose what we want to learn.”

According to Covarrubias, Darwin Week is an event that provides a platform for the presentation of research and ideas relating to philosophy, science, and social sciences. Faculty from UNI and other universities will informally discuss topics important to them.

This year, that ranges from what it means to be a modern atheist, intersectionality in the free thought movement, religion in public schools, vulnerability in geography, the evolution of disease and Mark Twain.

Darwin Week has been UNIFI’s cornerstone event for years. Featuring several lectures each day, the week is a feat for a student organization to coordinate.

According to Covarrubias, the event is successful because of the combined efforts of the entire officer team. Officers and members collaborate about what professors are engaging and dynamic and what topics are timely.

UNIFI members also bring ideas for speakers that are not just from UNI, as faculty from other Iowa schools are brought to speak through transfer student connections. For example, Tim Bergin, Wednesday’s keynote speaker, who is lecturing on the history of Darwin, is a faculty member at DMACC.

Faculty are also integral to a successful week. UNIFI’s advisor, Doug Shaw, professor of mathematics, and Connie Hansen, student organizations coordinator, have been particularly instrumental this year, Covarrubias said.

To Covarrubias, Darwin Week is an event for anyone and everyone — including students who are religious or students who may not identify as part of the free thought movement.

“Science does not discriminate based on religion. We are not trying to prove or disprove God,” Covarrubias said. “In fact, Darwin wanted to be a preacher and he didn’t discount his religion after he made his discovery. For anyone to say Darwinian evolution is anti-religious or anti-Christian is coming from a place of fear and ignorance rather than one of open exploration. To allege such is disappointingly untrue.”

Darwin Week is an event meant to stimulate discussion, raise questions, and promote curiosity in a range of areas, according to Covarrubias. Many of the lectures are not directly tied to a conversation about religion. There are lectures that talk about other ideas, such as ethical reflection and the relationship between being a historian and being skeptical. Another speaker will discuss the history of religion in the public-school system.

Tre Goodhue, UNIFI vice president and senior history major, looks forward to seeing UNI’s faculty lecturers, like Instructors of Philosophy and World Religions Abbylynn Helgevold and Michael Graziano, as well as Associate Professor of History Thomas Connors.

“I’ll get the chance to talk about things I normally wouldn’t get to talk about in class,” Goodhue said.

Covarrubias is prioritizing Tuesday’s keynote, Diane Burkholder, who will present “Intersectionality and Free Thought” because, for him, “being the only Mexican in this organization has had its interesting intersections with other aspects of white neoliberalism. It’s no secret that the movement is seen as very white, to put it politely.”

Covarrubias urged students to attend lectures that catch their eye.

“We’re giving you the chance to learn something new and look at the world from a different perspective,” Covarrubias said.