Each year the Women’s and Gender Studies Department awards prizes for the best undergraduate and graduate essays on women written at the University of Michigan. The prizes honor the memory of Dorothy Gies McGuigan, a distinguished alumna of the University of Michigan who taught in the School of Business Administration and the Residential College. Essays are evaluated by an interdisciplinary committee for their contribution to our understanding of some aspect of women's lives or roles, as well as for their originality and clarity of presentation.

In 2021, Women’s and Gender Studies senior Osa Svensson was named as the undergraduate winner of the McGuigan Prize.  Catherine Fairfield and Sunhay You, both joint PhD students in English and Women's and Gender Studies, won the award at the graduate level.

Congratulations to Osa, Catherine, and Sunhay! Read more about their projects in the review committee's commendations below.

Undergraduate Prize

Osa Svensson

Shirley Hauser: Invisibility of Trans Life and Obsessions With Trans Death

In the powerful essay, Women’s and Gender Studies senior Osa Svensson carefully considers the life, death, and afterdeath of Shirley Hauser, a white trans woman who lived in North York, Ontario from 1957 to 1978. The essay is beautifully crafted, both aesthetically and intellectually. Svensson’s sophisticated analysis draws upon a wide range of interdisciplinary sources to build a compelling argument about a life and an archive. With a strong and courageous authorial voice, Svensson does not shy away from posing difficult, yet urgent, questions. How do we understand the twinning of invisibility and hyper-visibility for trans women, especially in death? How do we write without, and against, formal archives? How can historians recover trans histories without contributing to the objectification of trans peoples, especially trans women? Svensson is not afraid to think differently, and to imagine trans histories outside of traditional archives. Her essay is imaginatively conceived and tightly argued. Svensson sees and honors Shirley Hauser in this award-winning essay.

Graduate Prizes

Catherine Fairfield

Tracks for Teaching: Forging an Experiential Feminist Pedagogy at the Brink of Pain and Change

In “Tracks for Teaching: Forging an Experiential Feminist Pedagogy at the Brink of Pain and Change,” English/WGS doctoral student Catherine Fairfield offers a lyrical, thought-provoking exploration of experiential environmental education, told from her perspective as a woman living with chronic illness and chronic pain during a time of climate crisis.  Finding kinship with the slow-moving Greenland shark, the sparrows and woodpecker working furiously outside her window, and the mushrooms energetically pushing up through soil, Catherine challenges assumed tenets of the environmental humanities by carefully attending to disability and embodied knowledge, feminist pedagogy, writing, and humans’ interreliance with the nonhuman.  As she reflects on her process of designing and teaching a course called “Writing the Future,” Catherine calls for an understanding of experiential education that moves beyond the binary of fieldwork and written work, that accommodates the full spectrum of bodyminds, and that makes space for the varied ways in which students, teachers, and “more-than-human beings” respond to daily experiences of environmental precarity and trauma.  Her beautiful essay invites us to expand our imaginations about the forms of care, support, energy, and transformation that environmental education might foster.

Sunhay You

The Interracial Erotic of Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth (2010)

Through a complex analysis of Truong’s novel set against the background of ‘colorblind’ racial politics in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Sunhay argues convincingly that different kinds of legitimizations of ‘colorblind’ love engage in a fantasy that posits racialized subjects of the US imperial wars as grateful recipients of magnanimity. Trans-national adoption, interracial sexual relations, and an interracial lesbian love plot all become hinge points that rediscover difference and opportunities for joy. Sunhay mobilizes Carl Jung’s shadow and Audre Lorde’s erotic (the ‘non-rational knowledge of our deepest feelings’) to tease out how disavowal ultimately fuels the eruption of agency. Deftly flowing alongside and building on Truong’s novel, this analysis mobilizes literature’s potential for the erotic and the power of the sensual, and for offering spaces to open into new futures.