Awards from the Department of Philosophy

Annual Undergraduate Philosophy Essay Prize

2021 Winner

Joy Boswell

for her essay "Heidegger and Nietzsche." The prize carries a $500 award.

Yoko Okita Award

This year the Philosophy Department was the steward of the Yoko Okita Award for the best student paper related to sexual violence and assault. This year there were two winners.

Winner #1 - Anna Meyers

Interpreting the Failure to Witness Survivors of Sexual Violence

This is a really outstanding paper and is consistent with one written by an advanced graduate student. The author shows how social networks and formal organizations fail to positively address and interpret survivor narratives of sexual abuse. This is referred to as “witnessing,” a process that should address experiences of victimization with validation rather than control and judgment. All too often, the author shows, the survivors’ true voices are suppressed by institutional processes that defame the survivor. Existing institutional norms do more violence to survivors by interpreting their narratives of abuse in ways that make sense to the institution but leave the survivor traumatized again. The author shows how processes like “down punching” and “silencing” function to uphold normative social “scripts” about sexual violence. Survivors who step outside of accepted narrative forms are defamed and the perpetrators are excused. The paper further shows us how institutional structures that silence or down punch are steeped in sexist and racist language that constructs a narrow definition of who is an acceptable victim. The paper calls society to engage in authentic witnessing of survivors, encouraging their agency, and helping them find a path to true healing, whether criminal processing is pursued or not.

Winner #2 - Billie-Ann Bruce

Role of Sexual Abuse on School to Prison Pipeline

This paper fills a gap in the literature by theorizing the role that the sexual abuse of girls play in what is known as “the school-to-prison pipeline.” The paper examines childhood sexual trauma and its link to risky behaviors that precipitate girls’ involvement in delinquency. The author draws attention to zero-tolerance policies in schools that not only fail to address the roots of girls’ misbehavior but result in referrals to juvenile courts. Essentially, schools criminalize survivor behaviors precipitated by sexual-abuse related trauma. Using concepts from General Strain Theory, the author shows how the experience of early victimization increases the likelihood of offending by girls during adolescence and later involvement in the adult correctional system. The paper suggests that these vulnerable youth, who are often from marginalized communities, need support rather than punishment.