LA&PS F/W 2016 Writing Prize

In the Fall of 1987, following an endowment made by then Dean Tom Traves, York University’s Faculty of Arts held their first faculty-wide essay contest. The competition was intended to recognize and celebrate undergraduate excellence in academic composition. As the Faculty of Arts evolved into the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, that essay contest became the LA&PS Writing Prize.

Competition Description

The LA&PS Writing Prizes are open to all kinds of writing from students enrolled in LA&PS courses, including case studies, administrative/executive reports, reviews of all kinds, non-fiction prose and formal essays (creative writing excepted). There are five categories: first through fourth year, as well as Major Research Project (MRP)/Undergraduate Thesis (if applicable).

Any Course Director in LA&PS is eligible to nominate a paper (one per course) in the appropriate category. Students’ papers are nominated using the year level of the course they were written for. For example, a 4th year student writing in WRIT 2004 is nominated in the 2nd year category. Eligible papers came from courses offered between May 2016 and April 2017.

Winners receive a cash prize, a transcript notation, the opportunity to have their papers published online, and are invited to a Fall Ceremony celebrating their accomplishments.

This contest was co-ordinated by Jon Sufrin, with much assistance from LA&PS staff and LA&PS Associate Dean Peter Avery. Special thanks go to the Writing Department for their efforts in reviewing the competition’s submissions.

Papers are linked with permission from their authors. Honourable mentions are unranked.

Selection Process

Small juries composed of full-time Writing Department faculty were each assigned the papers from a single year level. Care was taken to avoid conflicts of interest in the adjudication process. Jurors considered the submission in context of its assignment, as well as the piece’s readability, style, depth of analysis, and professionalism.

Jury Members

Marlene Bernholtz, Kerry Doyle, Brenda McComb, Kim Michasiw, Dominique O’Neill, John Spencer, Jon Sufrin, Ros Woodhouse.

1st Year

Honourable Mentions (Alphabetical Order by Author Last Name)

Sebastian Amaya’s “Shifting Economic Policies in the Advanced Economies” is a cogent argument for the cyclical, unstable nature of the capitalist system. Amaya uses the concept of “aggregate demand”—an economic term referring to a strong interest in and desire for a given product—as a central concept in his paper. With this idea, he notes how Keynesian policies were introduced in the Post WW2 period to stabilize citizens’ purchasing power and avoid the fluctuating cycles of past laissez-faire economic policies. But with the coming of “stagflation”—high inflation and stagnant or negative growth—Keynesian economic programs that had stabilized economies and more equitably shared profits among all were removed and replaced by neoliberal policies the privileged capitalist profit-taking at the expense of other sectors of society.

Generally well-written and researched, Amaya’s essay displays an advanced understanding of a long-time economic problem: how to create an economy that serves “the whole population, not just the capitalists.” In an era of advancing inequality, the significance of his conclusions is of particular relevance in our lives today.

To create change takes real people, real effort, and a real plan. The assessors were reminded of all three while reading Okello Mark’s Oyat’s “Business Plan for a Refugee Coaching Network.” Too often in the West, the suffering of others remains in the abstract, the subject of late night commercials. But Mr. Oyat’s work, authored from the Ifo camp in the Dadaab refugee district in northeastern Kenya, is a vivid, real example of LA&PS students and faculty working together to bring hope to a refugee community. In it, the author systemically lays out a business plan to improve the lives of the camp’s most vulnerable persons—its women and children—by supporting them as they grow, learn, and set up communities. In this way, argues Mr. Oyat, “people are engaged into their own development through coaching.” Since the women and children of the camps know their own local conditions best, teaching them how to establish their own classrooms, services and businesses provides agency to those who need it the most, while avoiding the colonialism of western-directed, centralized efforts.

Okello Mark Oyat’s work is a well-thought out, socially conscious, and empowering document that has the potential for a real impact within his community. Mr. Oyat has a plan, explains it with precision and care, and makes his case for the necessity of implementing the plan effectively. The context of its creation makes his work all the more exceptional, reminding students and faculty in LA&PS alike of how our teaching, learning, and writing can create positive change.

1st Year Winner

Robert Gibbs’s essay offers an elegant and witty written analysis of Parks Canada’s representation of the Batoche National Historical Site on the organization’s web-site. The essay is a delight to read and to learn from. Making deft use of the Wayback Machine internet archive, Mr. Gibbs describes and suggests persuasive understandings of the changes that Parks Canada has made to the website since it was launched in 2010. His paper analyzes how these changes reflect Parks Canada’s response to declining attendance, to transforming museological practice, and to an evolving understanding of how and what Batoche means as a representation of Métis culture.

Perhaps most notable about the essay is the tact with which it treats aspects of the Batoche site that offer tremendous temptations to easy ironies. Not that Mr. Gibbs’s prose is innocent of irony, but his irony is a measured, often understated but always precise instrument, that polished the prose and deepens the essay’s insights. Consider the essay’s mention of a new attraction at Batoche: “a red Muskoka chair placed somewhere in the historic site that visitors are invited to find using the supplied GPS co-ordinates, the reward being a secluded, beautiful view.” Too many of us would have felt compelled to comment further, would not have trusted their readers, primed by the context, to see the Muskoka chair for what it is, in all its colonialist aggression, absurdity and pathos. This is writing of a very high order and very much merits award and recognition.

2nd Year

Honourable Mention

This paper stands out for the subtlety of its response to the assigned question, strength of its textual analysis in arguing its position, and perceptive demonstration of how literary and structural techniques engage with larger thematic elements of the texts and general societal issues – in the case of these texts, that of oppression. With precise analysis of each text, the author skilfully exposes parallels in techniques of interrupted narrative and how effectively and aptly these carry thematic weight. In this, the paper goes beyond dutifully meeting the requirements of the assignment to offer novel and compelling insights into the intersection of the writing process and life.

2nd Year Winner

  • Winner: Madelaine Pries. "The Jig."

  • WRIT 2710, Grammar and Proofreading. CD: Dunja Baus, TA: Megan Hillman.

“The Jig” tells a lively story filled with music and dance, drinking and laughter, memory and action – all in one 200-word sentence that demonstrates, at the same time, mastery of the technical aspects of sentence construction and exceptional facility and sensitivity to the creative, expressive elements of both language and writing. Incorporating requirements to include seven grammatical components – from an absolute phrase to a non-restrictive modifier – as well as a designated number of esoteric vocabulary items, the writer succeeds in conjuring a vivid scene where a single pianist brings a pub to life as she plays a jig - stirring feet and emotions, laughter and memories – as young and old are caught up in the joy of the dance. While a kind of verbal high wire act, “The Jig” is an exceptionally well-crafted piece of writing that transforms what could have been a mechanical exercise into a clever, entertaining, impressive narrative.

3rd Year

Honourable Mentions (Alphabetical Order by Author Last Name)

The assignment asked students to use a classmate as a research subject to formulate a collaborative ethnography that would explore notions of memory and girlhood in the formation of identity and alterity through the analysis of a cultural object of significance to their childhood. This thoughtful and accessible essay analyzes how a fourth-generation Japanese-Canadian student formulated her notions of race, ethnicity, nationality, historical placement, and gender through her fascination with a “Kokeshi doll,” a Japanese wooden artifact. As she faced white dominant ideologies and the mistaken notion that she was Chinese-Canadian, the author concludes, Emily read the Kokeshi doll as a text and an act of resistance against marginalization.

  • Honourable Mention: Joshua Borenstein. "The Limitations of Law."

  • SOSC 3361, Disability and the Law: Critical Perspectives on Disability Rights Legislation. CD: Lykke de la Cour.

Author Josh Bernstein, in his thoughtful essay “The Limitations of the Law”, makes a persuasive case that legal means are limited in their ability to ameliorate the injustices wrought against the marginalized in capitalist societies such as Canada. The author supports his contention by discussing the law in conjunction with one marginalized group, people with disabilities; in particular he focuses in depth on one case adjudicated by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. In this way the author carefully and cogently lays out the reality of the situation and then the inevitable results for the marginalized in general, thus carrying the reader inexorably along to the same conclusion. In the end this is a very compelling and well-argued paper which is most deserving of being recognized for one of the Faculty honourable mentions for third-year.

3rd Year Winner

“Saving their Indian ‘Sisters’: British Women’s Activism in India in the Late Nineteenth Century” is certainly a most worthy winner of the third-year Faculty essay prize. In her compelling and delightfully written history, author Karen Silva analyses the methods used and reasons why these women activists sought to lift up the lives of the women in the Indian colony, and in doing so seeks to demonstrate that the Empire was not solely a male enterprise. She also clearly exposes the fact that these efforts, while usually motivated by a deep concern, often did as much harm as good. The resulting essay most ably integrates the author’s extensive research from a wide variety of sources into a well told narrative which is indeed enlightening and a great pleasure to read. It is a piece of writing of which the author should be most proud.

4th Year

Honourable Mentions (Alphabetical Order by Author Last Name)

Carlyn Atkinson’s “The Evolution of Dracula and the New Woman” investigates Bram Stoker’s iconic text through the lens of late 19th century Victorian attitudes towards feminism. Stoker embodied the fear of changing social mores in the form of eroticized female vampires, and Atkinson’s well-written paper carefully traces how Stoker presents his version of a monstrous “New Woman.” Her well-researched and referenced work explores how key characters in the text represent a “corruption of women’s morality,” and Victorians’ fears of infectious diseases and ideologies that could infect anyone, even the most respectable and proper.

The author’s clear prose and smooth organization enable her to demonstrate how, over time, vampires have come to represent the juxtaposition of fear and desire: a potent combination that was as irresistible for the Victorians as it is now for 21st century readers. Atkinson concludes by noting how “vampire romances” form their own subgenre, and frequently feature female characters fully in control over their own sexuality: self-reliant, self-aware persons, needing no man to thrive.

Maxine Grech’s feature article, “Dirty Wholesome Punks” uses a genre associated with journalism to draw readers into a tough topic. Poignant scenes and samples of lyrics are used to challenge negative stereotypes of mental illness and punk rock. The article shows that by articulating their experiences and giving hope for recovery, punk music can give a sense of connection to individuals who feel isolated and anguished. This evocative writing increases awareness of an important and often overlooked subject, while its narrative elements help to elicit the empathy that is so rarely given to individuals with mental illness.

Andrew Walker’s “Seniors’ Valence Concerns in Election Campaigns” is a first-rate piece of original research. “Valence” can be understood as ‘psychological value,’ or in the vernacular, how important a given issue is to a person or group. By matching the rhetoric and political platforms of the three major federal parties with their actual electoral results between 2006 and 2011, Walker convincingly demonstrates that whatever was motivating seniors’ votes, concerns over Long Term Care, Home Care and/or pensions did not appear to factor strongly in each Party’s electoral outcomes. The Conservatives won a plurality of seats while offering little or nothing for seniors, while more comprehensive seniors’ policy platforms did not play a very visible part in the Liberal or NDP campaigns, and so cannot be said to have influenced many votes.

But in 2015, writes the author, all three Party platforms were more detailed, and the issues of seniors’ care and pension funds were much more prominent when the writ was dropped. The NDP and Liberals both had good platforms, concludes Walker, but since the Liberals became the credible alternative in a change election, NDP promises “rang hollow.”

Walker does well to note that “seniors are diverse in their political allegiances” and that issues like retirement savings are salient for Canadians of all ages, not simply seniors. But he also points out that the demographics of Canada are telling: 2015 saw the valence of these issues increase, as Canada’s population grew older and an increasing percentage of baby boomers retired. This investigation is a superior one, not only because of its careful attention to detail, and its considerable depth of research, but because it remains relevant and timely, with conclusions that federal party strategists would do well to pay heed to.

4th Year Winner

Andrew Hatelt’s Wikipedia article provides an informative overview of the Digital Divide in Canada. His work shows how inequalities in Canadians’ access to information and communication technologies are associated with geographic and socio-economic factors as well as corporate and government practices and policies, and outlines policy initiatives to address these disparities. Andrew’s research and writing show that what students learn in assignments can be shared with, and is valued by, communities beyond the University. In addition to receiving the Faculty Award, Digital Divide in Canada has been recognized by an internal Wikipedia ‘Did you know?’ Award and is part of Wikiproject Canada.

All Nominees (organized alphabetically)

Tyler Abbate, “Role of the Hand: Absurd or Sympathetic?” EN 3191: Comedy. Nominated by: Aida Jordao, English.

Sebastian Amaya, “A Brief Examination of the Shifting Economic Policies in the Advanced Economies (particularly in Canada’s) from the 1930’s to the 1970’s.” POLS 1090: Introduction to Business, Government and Society. Nominated by: Bruce Smardon, Political Science.

Momo Ando, “Sex Tourism: The Children of Thailand.” ANTH 3240: Sexing the Subject: Sexuality from a Cross Cultural Perspective. Nominated by: Lynda Mannik, Anthropology.

Kay Angliss McDowell, “Childhood, Ethnic Representation and Growing Up in Toronto During the 1990s-2000s.” HUMA 3692: Representation of Children’s Alterity. Nominated by: Krys Verrall, Humanities.

Kay Angliss McDowell, “Cyber Rituals and Activism of the Marginalized.” HUMA 3519: Contemporary Women’s Rituals: An Introduction. Nominated by: Sherry Rowley, Humanities.

Kay Angliss McDowell, “Punk Music: The Vehicle of Resistance.” HUMA 4160: Storytelling, Multicentered Worlds, and Resistance. Nominated by: Sherry Rowley, Humanities.

Carlyn Atkinson, “The Evolution of Dracula and the New Woman: Misogyny, Eroticism, and Female Sexuality in Stoker’s Dracula and its Descendants.” WRIT 4720: Print Culture & the History of the Book. Nominated by: Dominique O’Neill, Writing.

Kylie Barnes, “Am I a Hypocrite to Congratulate Myself?” ADMS 4130: Green Business: Facing the Environmental Challenge. Nominated by: Joel Marcus, Administrative Studies.

Mahdi Bayat, “Peace Education and Aboriginal Peoples – A Path to Reconciliation.” POLS 4210: Peace Research. Nominated by: Althea Rivas, Political Science.

Joshua Borenstein, “The Limitations of Law.” SOSC 3361: Disability and the Law: Critical Perspectives on Disability Rights. Nominated by: Lykke de la Cour, Social Science.

Jordan Boynton, “Transcending Capitalism: The Neoliberal Deception.” POLS 3270: Global Political Economy. Nominated by: Sabine Dreher, Political Science.

Carlo Handy Carles, “Transnational Social Field: A framework to Analyze National Identity and the Haitian State’s Cultural Politics of Belonging in the Haitian Diaspora.” SOCI 4390: Transnationalism and Diaspora. Nominated by: Hyun Ok Park, Sociology.

Juie Dao, “Picturing Poverty: Depictions of Economic Inequality in Picturebooks.” HUMA 4142: Contemporary Children’s Culture. Nominated by: Krys Verrall, Humanities.

Nourein Darrag, “Capitalism: The Illness of Capital Accumulation.” POLS 3070: Psychology and Politics. Nominated by: Shannon Bell, Political Science.

Robert Gibbs, “Batocshe National Historic Site.” HIST 1040: The Presence of the Past: Commemoration, Memorials, and Popular Uses of History. Nominated by: Jennifer Bonnell, History.

Robert Gibbs, “Perception of the Falklands War.” HIST 2400: British History from the Tudors to Thatcher, 1500-2000. Nominated by: Stephen Brooke, History.

Maxine Grech, “Dirty, Wholesome Punks.” WRIT 4700: Advanced Topics in Periodical Writing. Nominated by: Paul McLaughlin, Writing.

Arfi Hagi-Yusuf, “Looking at Health Outside of Conventional Parameters.” POLS 4110: Canadian Urban Policy. Nominated by: Laura Pin, Political Science.

Andrew Hatelt, “Digital Divide in Canada (Wikipedia Article).” COMN 4201: Resistance and Subversion on the Internet. Nominated by: Jonathan Obar, Communication Studies.

Camille Herrera, “The Culture of Performance: Setting the Stage for Encounters in Youth Ministry.” ANTH 3350: Culture as Performance. Nominated by: Lynda Mannik, Anthropology.

Valaruthy Indran, “Intergenerational Trauma & Displacement: Mass Political Violence as an Avenue to study Genealogy and Descent.” ANTH 4010: Directed Reading: Genealogies and Identities: History, Science, Society. Nominated by: Sandra Widmer, Anthropology.

Jessica Ireland, “Male Domination and the liberalization of Finance. Toward a Feminist Financial Architecture.” POLS 3275: Global Political Economy II: Issues and Problems since 1945. Nominated by: Sabine Dreher, Political Science.

Zena Kamocki, “The Lives of Animals: On the Knife’s Edge of the Alimentary Divide.” HUMA 2600: Humanities for a Global Age. Nominated by: Doug Freake, Humanities.

Eunice Kays, “Precarious Work as Beneficial to Capitalism.” SOSC 4040B: Issues in Business and Society. Nominated by: Stephan Dobson, Social Science.

Suzanne Kennedy, “Sites Unseen: Big Picture’s Impaired Vision.” ANTH 4560: The Anthropology of Science and Technology. Nominated by: Natasha Myers, Anthropology.

Chitchra Kumarasamy, “Tamil Love Story.” WRIT 4725: Reading the News: Examining the Rhetoric of the Press. Nominated by: Doug Grant, Writing.

John Lugtu, “From Customary to Common Law: England’s Countryside as the Birthplace of Capitalism.” SOSC 1340B: Introduction to Business and Society. Nominated by: John Simoulidis, Social Science.

Shivanie Mahabir, “Sick, Illegal and Abnormal: Representations of Homosexuality as a Mental Illness in Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Killing of Sister George.” HIST 4511: Themes in Canadian Social and Cultural History. Nominated by: Joanna Pearce, History.

Danielle Morris, “Bring Me the Wind.” WRIT 1003, Professional Writing: An Introduction. Nominated by: Jon Sufrin, Writing.

Okello Mark Oyat, “Business Plan for a Refugee Coaching Network.” SOSC 1341: Introduction to the Social Economy. Nominated by: Caroline Hossein, Social Science.

Carlo Panaro, “An Uncontested Infringement of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: The Role of Criminalization in the Social Control of African American Males.” HUMA 1300: Cultures of Resistance in the Americas: The African American Experience. Nominated by: Andrea Davis, Humanities.

Rebecca Plener, “Reconciliation Through Elementary Education: An Analysis of the TRC’s Calls to Action in Relation to the Public Elementary School System in Ontario.” MIST 1050: Introduction to Indigenous Thought. Nominated by: Maggie Quirt, Equity Studies.

Madelaine Pries, “The Jig.” WRIT 2710: Grammar and Proofreading. Nominated by: Dunja Baus, Writing.

Alisa Rozhko, “Trade Liberalization in Developing Nations.” POLS 4245: Gender and International Relations. Nominated by: Althea Rivas, Political Science.

Sorena Zahiri Shadbad, “Escaping Black: The Dehumanization of Blackness in a Post-Colonial World.” SOSC 4510: African Popular Culture. Nominated by: Jeffrey Squire, Social Science.

Tomer Shenhan, “Social Economy and the Argentinean Worker Takeover Movement.” SOSC 3041: Economy and Alternative Development. Nominated by: Darryl Reed, Social Science.

Marrie Shirzada, “Annotation Assignment.” HUMA 4816: Women in Islamic Literatures. Nominated by: Marta Simidchieva, Humanities.

Karen Silva, “Saving Their Indian ‘Sisters’: British Women’s Activism in India in the Late Nineteenth Century.” HIST 3420: The British Empire from 1600 to the Present. Nominated by: Colin McMahon, History.

Hetash Singh, “Aboriginal and Treaty Rights: Successes and Failures of Legal Mobilization.” SOSC 4360: Social Movements and Legal Mobilization. Nominated by: Miriam Smith, Social Science.

Alexandra Slack, “Taking Control Through Fragmentary Narratives.” EN 2120: Prose Narrative. Nominated by: Tina Choi, English.

Jacqueline Swan, “Charity Analysis of Distress Centres of Toronto.” WRIT 3003: Introduction to Institutional Writing. Nominated by: Marlene Bernholtz, Writing.

Caitlyn Taylor, “Semper In Memoriam Nobis: Literature as Commemoration in the Interwar Period.” HIST 4360: Europe Between the Wars, 1918-1939. Nominated by: Matthew Kerry, History.

Sosina Tilahun, “The Indian Act: A Historical Background of the Direct and Structural Violence against Native Women.” POLS 4103: Diversity Politics in Canada. Nominated by: Ethel Tungohan, Political Science.

Bethany Ugpo, “Migration and Citizenship Interview.” SOCI 4350: Migration and Citizenship. Nominated by: Luin Goldring, Sociology.

Andrew Walker, “Seniors’ Valence Concerns in Election Campaigns Long-Term Care, Home Care, and Income Security.” POLS 4135: Politics of Aging. Nominated by: Thomas Klassen, Political Science.

Gregory Watkinson, “Safe Third Country Agreement.” POLS 3280: Canada and World Affairs. Nominated by: David B. Dewitt, Political Science.

Gordon Wells, “Pleasure Informing Praxis: Critiquing Harm Reduction in Canada.” SOWK 4460: Addictions. Nominated by: Brenton Diaz, Social Work.

Julie White, “Power and Control of Women in the Commodian Court and the Effects of Disobedience.” HIST 4132: Caesar’s Palace: A Social History of the Roman Imperial Court. Nominated by: Ben Kelly, History.

Stephanie Wilcox, “Once More, With Feeling.” PRWR 3910: The Mechanics of Style. Nominated by: Sharon Winstanley, Writing.

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