The recipients of the 2021 Oliver W. Koonz Prize—which recognizes the innovative work being done on human rights by students—are Genevieve Beske and Shania Khoo. Below are the responses of the 2021 Koonz Prize judges, Professors Claudia Koonz, Erika Weinthal and Barbara Lau with a short introduction of both winners.
2021 Best Essay
Genevieve Beske, Tipping the Scales of Power: The Effect of Gratuities on Pullman Porter Agency in the Early 20th Century”
In her research essay, “Tipping the Scales of Power: The Effect of Gratuities on Pullman Porter Agency in the Early 20thCentury,” Genevieve Beske explores how historically marginalized Black men created a proud brotherhood within the constraints of white supremacy. Drawing together a vast range of primary sources, she describes the bigoted stereotypes that porters reframed to assert their agency. Thus, Pullman porters sustained their pride as prominent members of the Black middle class even as they behaved obsequiously toward white passengers whose tips supplemented their meagre wages. They dignified their ethos by reframing tips as payment for additional services. Elegantly written, conceptually original, and exhaustively researched, “Tipping the Scales of Power” attests to the ability of a seemingly disempowered group to contribute to the solidarity that decades later underpinned the civil rights movement. 
Genevieve Beske is a graduating senior majoring in English and minoring in History. In both fields, she is fascinated with the ways that stories can give shape to our past and our present, imbuing the abstract with vitality and immediacy. She hopes to continue this people-focused approach to seminal movements and moments in her graduate studies. Read Genevieve’s essay here.
2021 Best Alternative Project
Shania Khoo, Comrades
In her very creative zine, Comrades, Shania Khoo assembles photographs, posters, artwork, news headlines, academic articles, and fiction that documents transnational and domestic encounters between Asian and Black communities across nearly a century of human rights activism. Khoo jolts readers out of comfortable assumptions about this often overlooked intellectual and activist history. Provocative, aesthetically engaging, and theoretically challenging, Comrades asks probing questions about the interplay between Black and Asian activists. Khoo, however, does not offer clear-cut answers which can stifle further discussion. Instead, her collage of dramatic images and vivid prose incites more dialogue about these historically marginalized communities that have been targeted by xenophobia in white supremacist, capitalist America.
Shania Khoo is a Benjamin N. Duke Scholar and Coca Cola Scholar pursuing a Program II in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies. As a 1.5 generation Malaysian immigrant, they are passionate about creating and being in learning and growing spaces to better understand and commit to anti-racism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and interrelations of power structures. Shania often makes digital zines about immigration, food politics, and Asian diasporic identity and experiences, using them as spaces to experiment with writing, illustration, design, and photography. At Duke, she is deeply involved in the fight for Asian American Studies through the Asian American Studies Working Group, and in 2019, she helped launch the first issue of Margins, a publication inviting Asian/Americans to engage in more nuanced conversations to radically understand identity. View Shania’s zine here