The recipients of the 2018 Oliver W. Koonz Prize — which recognizes the innovative work being done on human rights by students — were Hannah Miao, and Catherine Ward & Louden Richason for a co-authored paper.

Below are the responses of the 2017 Koonz Prize judges, Professors Claudia Koonz and James Chappel of the History Department.

2018 Best Essays

Hannah Miao is a first-year student from Cleveland, OH pursuing a double major in Public Policy and Global Health. She is especially interested in women’s health as a human right and its role in combatting gender inequality. Hannah is an Alice M. Baldwin Scholar and member of the Duke Human Rights Center Student Advisory Board. She wrote this paper in Dr. Juliette Duara’s seminar, “Human Rights and Legal Redress.”

In her carefully researched essay, Hannah Miao establishes the ways in which female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) violates girls’ right to health and autonomy.  Asking how best to combat the attitudes that embed this practice in custom, Miao concludes that legislation health-based arguments are effective only when reinforced by grassroots advocacy organizing.  Taking as case studies the Tostan educational project in Wolof-speaking Africa and the Positive Defiance Approach (PDA) in Egypt, Miao concludes that local leaders can motivate parents (especially mothers) to comply with laws against FGM/C.  The paper makes a nuanced argument for a multi-pronged approach to a complex problem.  This is a reminder to all of us that, when it comes to problems as embedded as FGM/C, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Read Hannah’s Essay, “Human Rights in the Context of Tradition: A Comprehensive Approach to Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting


Catherine Ward is a senior at Duke University majoring in English, minoring in Education, and pursuing a certificate in Ethics. As a Benjamin N. Duke Scholar, she has had opportunities to learn about the rich history of the Carolinas; through the Kenan Institute for Ethics, she has studied refugee youth education through DukeEngage in Dublin and Bass Connections: Citizenship Lab. She looks forward to continuing to engage with issues connected to refugee youth in her graduate studies.






Louden Richason is a junior at Duke University majoring in Economics and pursuing a certificate in Ethics. He has had the opportunity to do work related to refugee youth education through DukeEngage in Dublin, DukeImmerse in Amman, and Bass Connections: Citizenship Lab and hopes to continue researching issues related to upward mobility and equity of opportunity after he graduates. 

Catherine Ward and Louden Richason, in “Education as a Human Right: Educational Transitions for Refugees in a Third World Resettlement Context,” use the Bass Connections-sponsored Citizenship Lab at Duke to explore how refugees’ right to an education can be fulfilled in Durham Public Schools.  They describe how Duke volunteers in an after-school program not only tutored students, but also fostered teens’ self-esteem through personal interactions and shared projects.  By placing the global crisis in refugee education in a human rights perspective, they offer a case study that may be applied to institutions, like Duke, that struggle to extend human rights to refugees in a society that too often threatens to take them away.

Read Catherine and Louden’s essay, “Education as a Human Right: Educational Transitions for Refugees in a Third World Resettlement Context