Senior Thesis Prize

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.

                                                                       2021 Senior Thesis Prize Winners

Daniela Alvarez
         Department of Spanish and Portuguese 
         La Gran Cárcel: Two Militarized Borders, Two Failed Asylum Systems and a Mexico-Wide Prison

Alvarez’s extraordinary thesis explores how, due to the interplay of Mexican and American migration policies, Mexico itself in many ways became President Trump’s wall, an indefinite carceral holding cell for asylum seekers fleeing violence in Central America. She contends that Mexican complicity with Trump’s policies contributed to the de facto dismantling of the asylum system, trapping migrants in a series of bureaucratic loopholes subject to a choice of violence or imprisonment at every turn. Alvarez’s thesis never loses its critical eye while being written as clearly and accessibly as a non-fiction book, providing an illuminating look into the human values at stake in migration policy.

Malka Himelhoch
         Department of Religion
         Save This Woman from the Shackles of Aginut”:  A Case for the Decoupling of Marriage and Law in America

Himelhoch’s thesis uses a comparison of the different responses by Jewish communities in the United States and Eastern Europe to agunot, or women trapped in unwanted marriages, to shed light on the future of marriage in the United States. By skillfully incorporating historical, legal, and philosophical tools of analysis, Himelhoch highlights how the culturally dominant Christian view of marriage as “one flesh” led to framing the problem of agunot in the United States as seeking financial support from deserting husbands, rather than enlisting community assistance to get permission for divorce. Through this comparison, Himelhoch convincingly argues that American legal conceptions of marriage may in fact reflect an establishment of religion, and that marriage as a legal institution should therefore be abolished in the United States.

Simone Wallk
         Department of English
         Haunted Histories: Torture and Trauma in Muriel and The Battle of Algiers

Wallk’s exquisite thesis examines the relation between conflicting perspectives of historical events, the representation of those events in the memories of the people who experienced them, and the impossible feat of communicating traumatic experiences through art. She explores these interrelated concepts in the context of two films about the Algerian War: Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers, which largely conveys an Algerian perspective, and Resnais’ Muriel, which grapples with the French perspective, especially denial of torture committed by the French. By expertly juxtaposing the two films and, through them, the two cultural and historical perspectives they represent, Walk argues that artistic representations which fail to represent the true horror of historical events can perpetuate the very culture of silence and repression that gave rise to those events.

                                                                      2020 Senior Thesis Prize Winners

Avital Fried
          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.

Grace Grady
          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.

Sylvie Thode
          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

Mariachiara Ficarelli
         Department of Anthropology
         Fuori Campo: Affect, Dwelling, and Transcience in Eritrean Rome

Katherine Fleming
        Department of History
        Borders, Bridges, And Burdens: Latinas Navigate our Bodies, Ourselves, 1969-Present

Madeleine Gilson
       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.