Each year the Women’s 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 2020, Women’s Studies and Psychology PhD candidate Leanna Papp was named as the winner of the McGuigan Prize at the graduate level. Shayna Roble, a Public Health major also minoring in Gender & Health and Community Action and Social Change, was named as the undergraduate winner, and LSA sophomore Julianna Collado received honorable mention in the undergraduate category.
"Too Common To Count? 'Minor' Sexual Assault and Aggression in College Social Settings"
Psychology and Women’s Studies doctoral candidate Leanna Papp is the winner of the 2020 Dorothy McGuigan graduate student prize for her paper, “Too Common To Count? ‘Minor’ Sexual Assault and Aggression in College Social Settings.” This paper is notable not only for its original and sophisticated use of an intimate justice framework to refine our understanding of the variegated experiences of college sexual assault and aggression, but for its carefully considered methodological contribution to researchers’ tools to measure such instances. Examining how college women describe their non-consensual gendered experiences at parties and bars—e.g., of groping and grinding, pressure to drink or dance, and the use of deception to isolate them—the study reveals a gap between such routine forms of unwanted touch and attention and the ability of current common survey instruments to acknowledge such occurrences. Comparing data from focus groups with that of a recent climate survey, this beautifully written, coherently argued paper demonstrates how such “mundane” encounters are obscured and normalized as an acceptable part of women’s lives. Its pointed recommendation to include “sexualized aggression” as a concept in conversations about campus climate has far-reaching implications for policy, including on UM’s own campus.
"Health Implications of Incarcerating Pregnant Individuals"
Gender and Health minor Shayna Roble’s essay, “Health Implications of Incarcerating Pregnant Individuals,” is an eloquent, urgent, and well-researched piece of feminist scholarship. Roble’s argument is seemingly simple— “The effects of incarceration on pregnancies are important to address due to the vulnerable population it encompasses, the large number of incarcerated people this is applicable to, the health impacts on both the parent and baby, and because the negative effects follow those individuals throughout their lifetime” (4)—but Roble’s scholarship shows in meticulous and systematic fashion how complicated, far-reaching, and entrenched the problems are.
Roble offers a comprehensive discussion of the research on the various constraints incarcerated people suffer while pregnant. Such duress ranges from nutritional needs not being met to the horrific persistence of shackling both during and after pregnancy to the physical separation of the infant from the person who gave birth. Significantly, Roble accounts for the stark disparities in the demographic between incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals. As Roble puts it, “Incarcerated women are more likely than civilians to be affected by substance abuse, intimate partner violence, sexual and physical abuse, little education, homelessness, joblessness, STIs, chronic disorders, mental health, low income [and more likely to] be a person of color” (10). Roble of course is careful not to attribute these conditions as causes of incarceration but rather is pointing to the aggregate oppressive systems that make already marginalized people all the more vulnerable to criminalization. As of 2016, Roble later states, Black Americans, precisely because of these systems, were imprisoned at five times the rate of white people and twice the rate of Hispanic people, and that black children and Hispanic children were 7.5 times and 2.5 times more likely to have a parent in prison than white children. What’s more, LGBTQ people are also at higher risk for incarceration than heterosexual cisgender individuals. Indeed, while Roble doesn’t make this point explicitly, the essay’s use of the term “pregnant individuals,” rather than “pregnant women,” accounts for the individuals along the gender spectrum who don’t identify as women and are able to become pregnant.
Roble’s comprehensive analysis of the health implications of incarcerated individuals, and who is at greatest risk to these implications, is timely and cogent. While Roble stops short of calling for the abolition of prisons, Roble offers concrete recommendations on how to make pregnancy safer in prison, ranging from doing away with the use of shackles to doula support systems to enhanced visitation programs. Reforms that do so might offer these often neglected people “humane, dignified, and safe treatment throughout their pregnancy and birth experience” (18).
Undergraduate Honorable Mention
“Rita Moreno, From West Side Story to One Day at a Time: My Understanding of Latina-ness Portrayed in Hollywood”