McLeod First-Year Writing Prize winners announced

The James E. McCleod First-Year Writing Prize honors the legacy of Dean McCleod, a great supporter of intellectual engagement and the transformation that can occur when students immerse themselves in the study of subjects they passionately care about. The 2019 awardees were recognized on Sept. 12.

Deanna Benjamin, Tarrell Campbell, Leah Witheiler ’22 (semifinalist), Peter Monahan, Kasey Grady, Olivia Williams ’22 (winner), Grace Myers ’22 (honorable mention), Kate Bloomquist, Clara McLeod, and Eileen G’Sell celebrate the 2019 McLeod First-Year Writing Prize winners. 

Since 2013, the Dean James E. McLeod First-Year Writing Prize has been awarded to first-year students who demonstrate excellence in research exploring some aspect of race, gender, and/or identity. This year, the prize committee selected two winners, two runners-up, and six semifinalists from an unprecedented 44 submissions. Though in the past the prize was limited to students in Arts & Sciences, for the past two years all first-year undergraduates have been encouraged to apply. 

"The winners this year were able to put together unique ideas after culling through research spanning scholarship and popular media outlets" says Deanna Benjamin, an assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and chair of the prize committee. Multiple students also conducted surveys based on questions that arose during the research process. "That's surprising," Benjamin says. "It’s the kind of scholarship we expect from graduate students, and they are doing it at the first-year level." 

Prize-winner Olivia Williams, a first-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences, chose to research and write about eating disorders among black women, specifically bulimia and anorexia. As a student in the Foodways section of the College Writing Program, Williams “thought it would be an illuminating approach to examine negative relationships with food and how they can tie in with race and gender.”

“I worked really hard on my paper and was definitely proud of it, but it was an incredibly humbling feeling to learn I'd won the prize. Dean McLeod left a huge impact, and it's an immense honor to win a prize influenced by him.”

Early on, Williams encountered some challenges in the research process. “Since eating disorders' effect on black women isn't often discussed, it was at first difficult to find sources,” she says. “There were few research projects actually focusing on black women with eating disorders, and general papers on eating disorders didn't touch on race or simply skimmed over it.”

Olivia Williams '22 (left) receives the Dean James E. McLeod First-Year Writing Prize from Clara McCleod. 

The lack of studies prompted Williams to draw from a diverse set of sources. “I was more successful in finding testimonials from black women who've survived or are still struggling with eating disorders and the experiences they faced,” she explains. “Drawing in the element of body image and how it differs along racial lines was helpful, too – the papers I found on body image and black women helped inform my understanding of what can influence disordered eating.”

Even with all the effort put into her essay, Williams says that winning the prize was “amazing and entirely unexpected.”

“I worked really hard on my paper and was definitely proud of it, but it was an incredibly humbling feeling to learn I'd won the prize.” Williams adds. “Dean McLeod left a huge impact and it's an immense honor to win a prize influenced by him.”


2019 Awardees

Prize Winners

Priyanka Iyer: “Do It for the Culture”

Olivia Williams: “Sustenance Abuse: Anorexia, Bulimia, & Black Women”

Honorable Mentions

Grace Myers: “Queer Complexities and the Failure of Biological Justification”

Catherine Yi Si: “Word View as World View: What Influences Code-Switching, and Does It Establish Trust?”


Lili Barrett, Noah Slaughter, Karter Tiemann, Sparkle Whitaker, Leah Witheiler, and Pryce Yebesi

Read the award-winning essays