10th Annual Undergraduate Writers’ Conference
Wednesday, April 2, 2013
Conference Director: Norah Ashe-McNalley
Keynote Speaker: Tim Hobert
Professional Writing/Moral Reasoning
USC Schwarzenegger Institute
USC Levan Institute
Analytical Essay (126 submissions)
“Just after midnight on October 7, 1964, Lucille Miller…killed the engine of her parked Volkswagen Beetle, doused the seats in gasoline, and let it burn…with her husband asleep inside.” So begins Nichole DeLaura’s brilliant and elegantly-written essay on noir and the decay of the American Dream. Drawing judiciously from Joan Didion’s essay collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and the thinking of screenwriter and film theorist Paul Schrader, DeLaura’s essay shows a deep familiarity with noir as a uniquely American worldview, and provides a probative analysis showing how noir’s infiltration into middleclass values helped to spur some of the uglier parts of the 1960s U.S. counterculture. This was a smart, engaging, and insightful piece of work.
Ends and Meanings: Si guarda al fine and Machiavellian Virtue
An absolutely fastidious and comprehensive effort. Griffiths’ analysis of the Italian phrase “si guarda al fine,” which is often translated as, “the ends justify the means,” successfully deconstructs the historical and political factors that influenced Machiavelli’s use of the phrase, and provides deeper insights into what Machiavelli likely meant. This was an exhaustively researched, authoritative, and extremely impressive piece of analysis.
Neon Cowboy: A Brief History and Analysis of The Man with No Name As Seen in Hammett, Kurosawa, Leone, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Film Drive
Across storytelling mediums, genre, and times, Phillips explores how The Man with No Name functions as a necessary projection of the American experience, helping us reconcile the tension between the community and the forces that wish to destroy it. Fluent in the language and analytical tools of cinema, Phillips enriches the life-world of his paper by also invoking thinkers as diverse as Carl Jung, Ovid, Plato, and Frederick Jackson Turner. Structurally, the paper builds toward its most important discussion, that of the non-Western Western that is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. As Phillips demonstrates, “The Man with No Name must find refuge in genres more in sync with the nation’s zeitgeist…when he needs to be a driver, he can be a driver. When he needs to be a gunman, he can be a gunman.” In this proposition, Phillips reveals the enduring power of a true American archetype, in all of his complex iterations.
Researched Essay (104 submissions)
Kelsey Bradshaw, Jason Finkelstein, & Nicholas Kosturos
The 16 Years Crisis: Security, Geopolitics, and Conflict in the Arctic
This team-written piece offers compelling insight into the shifting economic and geostrategic importance of the Arctic region, ultimately highlighting the importance of conflict management in preventing future instability. In a thorough report that seamlessly moves between traditional research and official interviews, the authors do a particularly fine job of exploring both the potential for interstate conflict and the need for political leaders to openly acknowledge these looming problems. The report makes clear in its recommendations that without open dialogue, “an arctic crisis of alarming magnitude could result.
Evan Cohen and Nithya Kubendran
Hemodynamic Pressure Sensors as a Diagnostic Tool in Physiological Monitoring
Cohen and Kubendran’s essay acts as an endorsement for the further study and development of hemodynamic pressure sensors for cardiovascular monitoring. In straightforward terms, Cohen and Kubendran address the daunting challenges of studying the human body from within, and more specifically of syncing sophisticated technological innovations with the complex dynamics of human biology. Their detailed analysis of recent trials, and compelling assessment of the current status of the research, provides the reader with a sensitive account of the intricacies and evolution of medical research.
Post-Porn Culture: The Effects of Sexual Media on Social Relationships, Identities, and Desire
It’s easy to write a paper denouncing porn and detailing its negative effects on society, so easy that it’s been done many times by many authors. Though Nowaskie claims that porn does have some negative effects, the genius of this paper is in the way that it examines porn as a “cultural paradox.” The author makes eye-opening connections between the effects of porn on relationships, libidinal drive, and identity formation. Reading the text carefully unveils arguments about topics as wide-ranging as fantasy, novelty, and capitalism. Most readers will approach a paper on porn with a sense that they’re already reasonably knowledgeable about the topic; Nowaskie renews the topic for the attentive reader, providing an excellent example of the best of academic argumentation.
Voiceless Heroes: Female Resistance during the Armenian Genocide
Make no mistake, Petrosyan’s article is not simply a retelling of historical events. She masterfully weaves together quick narrative detours with intriguing claims about the various workings of this specific genocide. Though she certainly demonstrates her substantial knowledge on this subject, she also rewards the reader’s attentiveness with unusual arguments and enlightening connections between various forces at work during this historical period. All throughout the text, she utilizes the individual role and experience of women as a unifying topic that draws her paper into tight control.
Professional Writing/Moral Reasoning (72 submissions)
Commodifying Humanity: The Ethics of an Open Market for Human Organs
Emily Holmes offers a forceful argument against the development of a legal, market-based organ exchange, making her case not upon the purely philosophical grounds of ethical morality but instead by revealing the pitfalls and compromises inherent in subjecting the commodified human body to the socio-economic inequities of global markets. Drawing from subjects as varied as corporate use of sweatshop labor overseas, the US blood banking system during the AIDS epidemic, and childcare studies of parents picking up their kids from school, Holmes marshals a compelling body of evidence that matches her opponents’ preference for practical and observable support, effectively beating them at their own game. Just as importantly, her essay reflects the needs of her professional audience, making her case efficiently and succinctly without ever sacrificing quality.
Kant and Hume: A Tale of Two Philosophers
Sahoo’s essay is a thorough and thoughtful investigation into the point of disagreement between Kant and Hume regarding synthetic a priori statements. Sahoo traces the two philosophers’ radically different views on causality to this point of disagreement. Sahoo clearly identifies the philosophers’ points of agreement as context for her skillful analysis of the question of the a priori synthetic propositions.
Beyond Victimhood, Relief, and Bare Life: Assessing the Pitfalls and Perils of Humanitarianism in Global Development
Adithi’s essay is built upon the somewhat unconventional premise that humanitarian motives in global development must be moved to the periphery. With nuance and sophistication, the argument reveals the fundamentally short-sighted nature of current humanitarian efforts, the “reductive and essentializing narrative of victimhood” it produces that runs contrary to the primary purpose of development, and the fiction of apoliticism under which the enterprise operates. Well researched and compellingly argued, Adithi’s essay never loses sight of the good that such humanitarian action can bring, but refuses to let those benefits obscure the essential work that must be done to alleviate the systemic and structural forces producing the need for that humanitarian effort.
Creative Work (122 submissions)
In the tradition of Aimee Bender and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hayden Bennett has crafted a tale in which unlikely and unexplained events are taken at face value by characters that do their best to navigate the story’s slippery terrain. From the opening line the first-person narrator comes alive for readers, and the story is layered with subtle humor and vivid imagery. There is nothing ornate or flashy about Bennett’s sentences; they are successfully placed one atop another like the logs of a wood cabin—sturdy sentences that come together to form a satisfying larger structure.
Collection of poems (Untitled)
William Hagberg’s collection begins with the line, “The ice cream man drove to my doorstep,” and his poems are every bit as wonderful as finding a double-scoop cone waiting just outside your front door. The poems range in style and form, but are united in their careful diction and in their vibrant imagery. Hagberg is as gifted at crafting an image as he is at offering insight, and read collectively these poems display the creativity and intelligence of a promising writer. There is quite simply a lot to love about these poems.
The Boogeymen (short story)
Told from the perspective of 4 different characters, Varela’s story narrates a day in the life of a country family who grows and sells Christmas trees for a living. In its brief 7 pages, the story evokes life’s simple beauties that shine, like rare “freckles of gold,” against the mute, inarticulate pain of depression that laces its way through the generations of this family. Varela’s prose has a stark beauty as crisp as the winter she takes as her topic.
La Laguna (short story)
Writers are often admonished to write about only what they know from personal experience. In “La Laguna,” his short story about Mexican immigrants living illegally in Arizona, Eric Weintraub demonstrates the limitations of that advice. A less skillful writer than Weintraub could easily have created characters who were mere caricatures, stereotypes based on media reports. Instead, Weintraub portrays the young adults who are the main characters in his story with a depth of insight and a degree of understatement that belie his youth.
USC Schwarzenegger Institute
Palliative Care: An Alternative to Physician-Assisted Suicide
Learning to Choose – Who Decides and How to Decide about Advanced Directives
Why Providing Every Student a Quality Music Education Makes So Much Sense
USC Levan Institute Ethics Essay Contest
Ethics Essay Contest winners were also announced at the Writers’ Conference. Click here to view the winners.