two people smiling and standing in desert
The Koonz Human Rights Prize award honors Oliver W. Koonz, Prof. Claudia Koonz’s late father. The prize honors the best essay/paper or alternative project prepared by an undergraduate for the academic year. The Duke Human Rights Center@FHI awards one $500 prize to the winners in each category.

This year's deadline is April 1, 2024.

Submission Guidelines

An essay must be no longer than 25 double-spaced pages. Whether it is a critical essay, research paper, or personal essay, a submission must:

  • identify the particular human rights principle(s) involved
  • formulate your topic question
  • explain your approach
  • critically discuss relevant research
  • arrive at a conclusion

project can be a photographic essay, a play script or short story, a documentary video, a web page, a phone app, a visualization of data or other original approach to confronting a human rights question.

All submissions must include a paragraph introducing the paper or project, listing any co-authors and noting whether it was created in a course. A submission does not have to be developed in the context of a course, but if it was, please note the course title. Whether or not it is connected to a course, an essay or project must be completed during the time the student is enrolled at Duke. Please send submissions to by April 1, 2024. Awards will be announced in May 2024.

2023 Oliver W. Koonz Human Rights Prize Winners


2023 Best Essay: Anushri Saxena

The issue of intersex participation and sports has attracted a great deal of attention in recent months. In her pioneering and subtle essay, Anushri Saxena plunges into the issue by using history to show that ambiguity about sex and gender originated during the Cold War, when the supposedly “un-feminine” bodies of Communist women were figures of concern. Using the tools of intersectional analysis, Saxena shows how sporting associations have raised alarms most frequently about the bodies of track and field athletes who represent the Global South. The current hysteria over these issues, therefore, manifests a much deeper set of anxieties about race and femininity. It is not clear what is to be done, and Saxena does not pretend to have the answers. Her beautifully written essay, though, does help us to ask the right questions.

Read Anushri Saxena's Essay

2023 Best Alternative Project: Olivia Canter

Olivia Canter has done remarkable, interdisciplinary work about the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting [FGM/C]. About three million girls in 30 countries are at risk annually. While FGM/C has been heavily studied, Canter takes a novel approach, seeking to educate healthcare providers about the practice and its cultural background. Her work seeks to aid the 513,000 girls and women who experienced or are at risk for FGM in in the U.S. Canter does this by educating the healthcare providers these girls and women will encounter. The committee was impressed by Canter’s humility and her zeal to bring her academic knowledge to a wider audience. Her prepared lecture on the theme was remarkably thorough, nuanced, and culturally sensitive. One of the most pressing challenges of our time is to bring academic knowledge of human rights, culture, and religion into medical spaces. Canter shows us how it can be done.

Read about Olivia Canter's Project