Every year, the University Center for Human Values awards up to three prize(s) to senior theses that best apply ethical reasoning to advance our understanding of human values. Nominations for this prize are made by departments across the University.
2020 Senior Thesis Prize Winners
Department of Philosophy
Executing Justice: An argument against capital punishment for the 9/11 defendants
Fried’s thesis is an excellent work in political philosophy, arguing that it is inappropriate to impose capital punishment on a group of 9/11 defendants, even if (ex. hypothesi) they are, and are found to be, guilty of terrorism. She contends that given that they have already been subjected to detention and torture, imposing the additional harm of capital punishment would be disproportionate to desert and so cannot be justified on retributivist grounds. Nor, given the peculiarities of the case, could it be expected to contribute to deterrence effectively enough to be justified on consequentialist grounds. The thesis is clearly and logically written, and powerfully illuminates the human values in such an ethically fraught context.
Department of Psychology
Names, Accents, and Racial Linguistic Profiling: Linguistic and Racial Prejudice as Mechanisms of
Discrimination Against Speakers of African American Vernacular English
Grady's thesis is a rigorous study of how someone's dialect influences how that person is judged. Using recordings by speakers who are fluent in both dialects, Grady's finding support the idea that dialect is a source of bias. African American Vernacular English speakers are thought of as less trustworthy, competent and likeable than Standard American English speakers -- and this effect is much stronger than a previously-documented effect of stereotypically black names. Grady's thesis is a truly impressive set of studies combined with an important discussion about the features and implications of linguistic prejudice.
Department of English
Up in Arms: Poetries of Resistance from the Northern Irish Troubles and the American AIDS Crisis
In this extraordinary thesis, Thode compares the ethical critiques of political action and inaction made in the poetry respectively engaging with the US AIDS crisis at its peak, and with the Northern Irish Troubles at theirs. By exploring their varied deployments of metaphor and of mythology, she demonstrates how poetry can be used to reason about the fate of human values in situations of conflict and trauma. The thesis concludes with reflections on the COVID-19 crisis which are deeply informed by the sensitivity and eloquence that characterize it throughout.
2019 Senior Thesis Prize Winners
Department of Anthropology
Fuori Campo: Affect, Dwelling, and Transcience in Eritrean Rome
Department of History
Borders, Bridges, And Burdens: Latinas Navigate our Bodies, Ourselves, 1969-Present
Department of Sociology
Fractured Families: A Qualitative Study of Deteriorating Kin Support Among Parents in the Child Welfare System
2018 Senior Thesis Prize Winners
- Elly Brown
- Department of Politics
- Politics in the Cave: Worldliness and Plurality in Plato, Augustine, and Arendt
- Elly Brown’s thesis is an extraordinarily rich work of political thinking. Bringing Arendt’s own complex critical engagements with both Plato and Augustine into her frame, Brown argues that elements of each thinker’s understanding both resist Arendt’s criticisms and offer her resources for her own project of a worldly, pluralistic politics. The thesis is beautifully constructed, steeped in scholarship, and creative in its insights into the human values that lie at the heart of political life.
- Edric Huang
- Department of Anthropology
- Life's Good Ailleurs: The Labor of Hope Among Sudanese Refugees in Paris
- Edric Huang’s thesis is an astonishingly sophisticated, thoughtful, and sensitive exploration of the lives and stories of men from Sudan who are refugees in an area located on the outskirts of Paris. He draws on ethnographic observations of time spent in a refugee camp, art constructed by refugees, his own poetry, and an analysis of the physical environment, such as fences and plastic cups, as well as a subtle engagement with anthropological literature on themes from migration to boredom to despair. Huang beautifully captures what he names the “labor of hope” and reveals it as a fundamental source of human value.
- Julia Case-Levine
- Department of History
- 'Seeing to the Sympathies': A Critical Reexamination of Sentimental Fiction and the Works of E.D.E.N. Southworth
- Julia Case-Levine’s thesis is a beautifully written and trenchant critique of the widespread critical dismissal of ‘sentimental’ fiction of the 19th century, focusing on one particular novelist, Southworth. Against the tired trope according to which sentimental authors appealed to emotion rather than to reason, Case-Levine argues that Southworth (and others, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe) appealed to a well-conceived blend of emotion and reason together, designing their fiction to move readers to action about causes such as abolitionism, abolition of capital punishment, and others to which Southworth in particular was committed. The thesis offers an exemplary demonstration of how literature can relate to human values, and of how historical study of literature can recover the values of works too often set aside.
2017 Senior Thesis Prize Winners
- Joani Etskovits
- Department of English
- “Girls Growing Curiouser: From Charlotte Brontë's Bluebeard-Print through 'Alice's Adventures' ”
- Joani Etskovitz’ thesis on the rehabilitation of girls’ curiosity in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Villette, and above all in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland—against traditional myths punishing curiosity in the form of Eve, Pandora, and Bluebeard’s wife —is beautifully written, perceptive, and powerful. In tracing just how these works posited the revolutionary case that ‘women feel just as men feel’, Etskovitz enriches our understanding of the intricate imaginative and literary strategies that were needed to make this case patent.
- Colleen O'Gorman
- Department of Politics
- “Lessons from Emily Doe: A Survivor-Centric Approach to Sexual Assault”
Colleen O’Gorman’s thesis makes distinctive and original contributions to our thinking about the difficult subject of sexual assault. She offers a critique of the “tokenization of consent" as the crucial factor in differentiating mutually satisfying and reciprocal sexual activity from sexual assault and violence. The thesis is impressively fair-minded and well-informed, drawing on a stunning range of literature including not only political theory but also the philosophy of action, feminist critical theory, legal scholarship, and criminology. It concludes with an insightful account of the collective responsibilities that different actors have for sexual assault as perpetrators, facilitators, and contributors, and how the latter two groups could contribute to reducing the incidence of this grievous harm.
- Kevin Alexander Wong
- Department of Philosophy
- “Counting Animals: On Effective Altruism and the Prospect of Interspecies Commensurability”
- Kevin Wong’s thesis is an extremely impressive work of moral philosophy. It outlines a new method for comparing the welfare of non-human animals to the welfare of humans for purposes of consequentialist reasoning and cost-benefit analysis. Clearly, carefully, and logically written, with due attention to the limits of the argument so far, this thesis is unusually ambitious and original for the work of an undergraduate, and has significant implications for whether charities should donate to alleviate suffering for human beings or allocate their resources instead to animals.