2017-18 Don Rothman Endowed Award in First-Year Writing

(L to R) Holden Jurisich (award winner), Brij Lunine (Rothman Committee Chair), Sam Garbus (award winner), Nick Yi (award winner), Meg Mindlin (award winner), Hannah Payne (award winner), Ishana Shukla (award winner), Writing Program Chair Tonya Ritola, Humanities Dean Tyler Stovall, VPDUE Richard Hughey; Picture by: Ingrid Lariviere

 2017-18 Award Recipients

- First Place - 
Hannah Payne 
"Conformity in Rwanda: A Case Study of Social Psychological Forces in Genocide"
(Instructor: Catherine Carlstroem)

Hannah Payne  

My essay is an investigation into how different social psychological principles can be understood within the context of genocide, with a focus on the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, in which 77% of the ethnic Tutsi minority was killed. My inspiration to write on this topic came as I worked through my first quarter at UCSC. I kept noticing ways in which the three classes I was taking-- a core writing class, a introductory social psychology class, and a film class-- overlapped and influenced how I was learning and thinking about these different fields. I wrote this essay as part of my college’s core course, and combined with all of the research it took me around half of the quarter. Writing this was difficult; not only was I trying to condense decades of research that I was simultaneously learning in a social psych class, but I was reading extremely dark and depressing material as part of my research. Overall, I feel like the process of writing this essay and piecing together research, as well as the actual subject matter, has been key in my journey as a writer. I think focusing on something so dark and trying to look into ways we as a global community can change became my way of paying tribute to the victims of the Rwandan genocide, and taught me that one of my greatest interests as a writer is taking what I learn in a classroom and applying it to the world around me.

- Second Place -
Ishana Shukla
"The Picket Fence"
(Instructor: Lindsay Kinsley)


This essay served as a catalyst for a change that I didn’t know I needed. If it were not for my professor, Lindsey Knisley, I would have never realized that I was letting my past affect me so much. She has been such an amazing professor, mentor, and inspiration to me and I would like to thank her for that.  Writing this paper gave me back my strength, my dignity and my ambition, and I am certain that I would be a completely different person if I had not taken this writing course. This one essay has helped me grow and heal more than I could have ever imagined, and I am so incredibly thankful to have it be acknowledged.

(Instructor: Kiva Silver)
Holden Jurisich

Going into today’s ceremony we were told to speak only about our essays and the challenges or breakthroughs we had while writing them. I’ll read a short quote from mine in a little bit, but I wanted to focus the bulk of my comments today on something more important than my essay: the issue it’s about. My essay, entitled “Late Stage Capitalism and the Republican Hand in Maintaining It,” is, of course, a largely critical examination of the economic system. But because I was confined to making my argument against capitalism within the context of a graded essay, I was forced to at least mention “both sides” of the issue in order to receive full credit. The reason I’m bringing this up is because I want to make the case to all of you that capitalism is threatening society in ways that are so immediately catastrophic—climate change, namely—that we simply do not have time to be measured, civil, or “fair and balanced” when it comes to speaking out against it.

I put hours upon hours into researching and writing this essay, and I’m proud of the result. But—and I can’t stress this enough—no one in this country cares about methodical, well-researched, good-faith arguments. In an age in which a reality TV star can be elected president, it would be incredibly naive to think more reason will save us. Logical solutions will not bring us out of our illogical reality. What we need instead is passion, or in other words, the courage to fight with the same sort of rage that motivates those we need to fight against. Research essays are not going to help us accomplish this. Instead, I want to recommend to you all two examples of pop culture that will help you understand what is really going on and how you should feel about it: the rap group Run the Jewels, and the podcast Chapo Trap House. These two anti-capitalist productions have instilled a revolutionary spirit within me that you just can’t get from writing a research paper, or even from taking in an entire quarter’s worth of curriculum. To give you a taste of the kind of spirit I’m talking about, just listen to this lyric from Killer Mike, a member of Run the Jewels: “Choose the lesser of the evil people, and the devil still gon' win. It could all be over tomorrow, kill our masters and start again.” Though there might not be anything wrong with academic pursuits such as research essays, I feel that this kind of sentiment is far more effective at conveying the urgency of the existential threats brought upon us by capitalism.

Ok, to wrap up, I’d like to mention *just one* quote I referenced in my essay. As much as I would’ve preferred to make my argument without presenting “both sides,” as I’ve said, I did find one especially revealing quote from a conservative writer named Yaron Brook. In a speech titled “Economic Equality Is an Immoral Ideal,” Brook plainly states: “there is nothing good about equality.” Yes, this writer was arguing exactly what he sounds like he was arguing. By drawing on the false premise that harder work correlates perfectly with greater success, he was saying that poor people have no one to blame but themselves, and therefore deserve their fate. This is exactly what I’m talking about when I say a logical approach isn’t helpful. How do you reason with someone whose fundamental worldview is incompatible with reality? You can’t. Not only that, but Yaron Brook and others like him *want* society to maintain its hierarchy, and they will plainly tell you that. And when these people tell you who they are, believe them. Thank you.

- Third Place - 
Meg Mindlin
"An Argument to Conduct More Research on the Common Octops"
(Instructor: Terry Terhaar)

Meg Mindlin

Unfortunately, this section of my paper doesn’t include all the really fun studies and all the different ways people have been applying knowledge of the octopus to new solutions and inventions. Personally, I think it really showcases my voice throughout this paper. I didn’t even know you were allowed to have a voice in research papers until this class. I figured I had to act all smart and throw in some big words here and there, and make it seem like I knew what I was talking about. But in reality, the best research papers I read were the ones where I felt like I was having a conversation. They break complicated information down to you really simply. So you don’t have to constantly google every sentence. Which is really cool! Because writing this way makes science more accessible to everyone. And even more so, having a voice in your papers shows passion and enthusiasm. Every paper should make you feel excited and inspired about how cool the world is. Being able to explain complicated material in a simple and exciting way is the most valuable skill I could ever learn from this class. Have fun with your writing, showcase your personality and make the material interesting for your reader. Because as long as you’re passionate, people will care.

- Honorable Mention - 
Sam Garbus
"Viewing Violence" (Warning: violent and graphic content)
(Instructor: Farnaz Fatemi)
Sam Garbus
It doesn’t matter that my writing won an award as much as it matters that more people will read it now that it's been recognized. I think the topics I tried to cover in Viewing Violence are very important for the time we are living in right now, and I hoped when I wrote it that I would win so it could get more exposure. The issues of how we censor things are completely wrapped up with the gun debate, and in the essay, I tried to show how that has a real effect on people’s lives, in a way that’s counter-intuitive to most people. To any future applicants I would say, just get everything you have to say down on paper and edit it later, don’t overthink it. In order to write a paper like this, you need to do a bad job first, and then do a lot of drafts. How good your paper is in the end just comes down to how many times you’ve revised it.


Honorable Mention - 
Nick Yi
Nick Yi

Going into this essay, I didn't know much about the L.A. Riots. I thought I would find easy, straightforward answers in my research, and come up with a convenient thesis I could argue in six pages. It was a dream that quickly died when I found a 400-page book dedicated to just one facet of my topic. For every one-week event in history, I realized, there were hundreds of years of history behind it. How could I talk about Korean Americans in media without talking about the ways the relationship between Korean and African American communities was portrayed? How could I discuss either community without delving into the histories of slavery, racism, immigration, and foreign policy?

The hardest part of writing my essay was, for the first time, staying under the page limit. I was forced to genuinely consider which pieces of evidence helped my claim, and how I could lead the reader through my argument. I'm very grateful I had the guidance of my Core teacher, Heather Schlaman, who was incredibly helpful in putting together this paper. What I produced is not just evidence of the research I did, or the knowledge I gained, but the proof that there’s still so much more I have to learn. Through writing this essay, I’ve come to understand writing as a process of learning: learning what we didn’t know, what we don’t know, and finally, how much more we want to know.

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