Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies

Prizes and Awards

Leah Freed Prize Poster

The Leah Freed Memorial Prize Award

The Leah Deborah Freed ’77 Memorial Prize Award honors the life of Leah Deborah Freed (1954-1986), a pioneer student in the Program of Women’s Studies at Oberlin College.

In her Oberlin career, Freed was known for her outstanding research on Doris Stevens ’11, an Oberlin alumna, who served as the vice president of the National Women’s Party and who was an outspoken activist for women’s suffrage, labor reform, and legal equality for both sexes.

The Leah Freed Memorial Prize is awarded to support engagement in student research and creative work related to the core concerns of the GSFS program. Support is available for proposals involving students in research, creative work, performance, or another academic project. Awards of up to $600 are available to defray costs of a project, including travel to and from a research site, interviewing, supplies, performance costs, equipment rental, and more. The deadline to apply for the Leah Freed Memorial Prize is Monday, April 24, 2023.

Leah Freed Memorial Prize Application

Maddie Batzli

Major: GSFS and Sociology

Project Title: At the Edges of Queer: Lessons in Ambiguity, Community, and Erasure

Project Description: When queer took the world of AIDS activism and the academy by storm in the late 20th century, activists and academics leapt to understand and define this “new” word and predict its trajectory. Some academics claimed that queer would avoid obsolescence, remaining an anti-assimilationist beacon for activists, while others worried that lumping anyone with non-normative sexualities or lifestyle practices under the same umbrella would inaccurately homogenize disparate groups and detract from specific causes. My research aims to understand the meanings of the word queer among Oberlin students today, over a quarter century after the beginning of the word’s reclamation.

Through semi-structured, in-depth interviews, I asked non-heterosexual or non-cisgender students to describe their relationships with and perceptions of the word queer in Oberlin and in other places they’ve lived. Participants revealed that multiple and ambiguous uses of queer create implicit boundaries that facilitate more inclusive and nuanced understandings of gender and sexuality while simultaneously reinforcing dynamics of privilege and marginalization present within mainstream U.S. society.

In-depth interviews make up the core of this project. With funding from the Leah Freed Memorial Prize, I was able to send some of my audio-recorded interviews to a transcription service. This allowed me to spend more time reading, coding, and writing, proving that receiving this funding has been incredibly valuable to the progress of this project.


Natalia Shevin

Major: History

Project Title: We Need Not Weep Alone: Evelyn C. White's Vision for a World Where Black Women are Free

Project Description: I am writing about Evelyn C. White, journalist and author of Chain, Chain, Change: For Black Women in Abusive Relationships (Seal Press, 1985), The Black Women’s Health Book (Seal Press, 1990), and Alice Walker: A Life (W. W. Norton, 2004). White wrote regularly for the San Francisco Chronicle and various other publications, including Essence, Ms., and the Washington Post. The paper examines the published and personal writings of White, an unexamined figure in the scholarship of 20th-century black feminism. Without White, history lacks a storyteller whose voice has illuminated the opportunities, contradictions, and imagination involved in creating a world where black women are free.

The paper relies on unpublished archival sources from the Seal Press collection at Oberlin College, Alice Walker’s papers at Emory University, and White’s personal papers at Smith College. With the generous funding from the Leah Freed Memorial Prize, I visited Smith’s archives. Her archive catalogues her relationship to black and white feminists, why she chose journalism, and how she understands pain, vulnerability, and silence. These questions are the driving force of the paper, and without seeing her personal papers, I would be ill-equipped to answer them.


Tory Sparks

Major: GSFS and Anthropology

Project Title: This is a Closed Space for Queer-Identifying Folx

Project Description: My honors thesis aims to show how students at Oberlin construct queer-only spaces as sites for formation of queer identities. I am interested in how queer, the non-identitarian identity that is open to all, is constructed in arguably closed Safe Spaces at Oberlin (primarily focusing on Queer Beers.) Through interviewing students, I will attempt to understand how queer theory and identity politics operate simultaneously in the creation and discussion of queer space on campus.

Phyllis Jones Award 2023 Poster

Phyllis Jones Memorial Award

The Phyllis Jones Fund was established through gifts from students, colleagues, and friends of Phyllis Jones (1945-1982). Jones was a member of the English department and chair of the Women’s Studies Committee during its first four formative years. She contributed bravely and profoundly to the education and growth of women in the college and community.

This annual award recognizes and honors student work in areas related to Phyllis Jones’s interests: women writers, underrepresented women, women in the community, and the integration of personal and professional goals for women.

Awards of up to $600 are available to defray costs of a project, including travel to and from a research site, interviewing, supplies, performance costs, equipment rental, and other needs.

Phyllis Jones Memorial Award Application

Alexandria Cunningham

Majors: Africana Studies and Sociology

Project Title: Hip-Hop Sexual Anthems, But Only If Ya Nasty: Unpacking Black Sexual Politics in the New Racism

Project Description: “Only If Ya Nasty” is my senior capstone in Africana Studies that engages sociologist Patricia Hill-Collins’s concept of Black sexual politics—a set of ideas and social practices shaped by gender, race and sexuality that frame Black men and women's treatment of one another--to interrogate a precarious situation in hip-hop. Some of the most lucrative hip-hop music is very sexually explicit, aggressive and, well, nasty. Commercial hip-hop creates the conditions for this case to persist by marketing a fantasy of conspicuous consumption and adventurous sex to mass audiences. The fantasy depends on excessive sexual imagery and lyrical narratives that articulate stereotypical perceptions of Black women’s sexual performance, in particular, and Black hypersexuality, in general. In the capstone, hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj and her anthem, “Anaconda,” is used as a case study to explore the dynamics of Black sexual performativity and agency. The capstone’s core feature is its constant centering of the voices of Black women through the lyrical excerpts from Black women rappers’ sexual anthems to its Black feminist framing. In this way, Black women lead the dialogue about our bodies, sexual politics and critical consciousness to envision our own liberation as Black women and a wider Black community.


Donnay Edmund

Majors: Africana Studies and Comparative American Studies

Project Title: The Journey of My Happy Feet: From Guinea to Brooklyn

Project Description: Forthcoming


Leah Aki Wood

Majors: Cinema Studies and East Asian Studies

Project Title: Dirty Laundry – A Screenplay

Project Description: Dirty Laundry is my second screenplay, and one that has challenged me as a writer and filmmaker. It is an attempt to write creatively and truthfully, to not write in order to please others, or even because there is an important or impressive message to convey. Rather, it is a story built from a few images, my fascination with the aesthetics of laundry, a first attempt to explore darker realms, and a desire to stay true to my own voice and vision. Often times I come to the conclusion that film is the only way that I can articulate what I see, feel, and hear in a way that others will understand. In an ideal future I would work with individuals to use different means of self-exploration, whether that be through music, art, film, or writing, to encourage them to tell stories and challenge their notion of self-identity through expression. One can only be what they push themselves to be, what they allow themselves to be, and I believe that the creative process is integral in realizing oneself.

I am fascinated by human connection and the complicated flow of needs and desire that exists between us all—I wrote the characters, Max and Reggie, with this in mind.