The Lois and Willard Cohodas Literary Prize

Human Rights, Tolerance, & Understanding

This prize was established by Rabbi Samuel and Lynn Stahl and Nancy and Paul Oberman, in honor of the 65th wedding anniversary of their parents, Lois and Willard Cohodas.  The goal of the competition is to provoke serious thought about one or more of the following topics:

--Enhancing racial, ethnic, religious, sex/gender, (inter)national and cross-cultural understanding

--Eliminating racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism and hate 

--Advocating respect for universal human rights around the world by overcoming prejudice rooted in ignorance and resentment of differences

--Remembering the unique atrocity of the Nazi Holocaust of European Jewry by promoting awareness of all the other atrocious genocides and crimes against humanity as well, each of them unique and similar in their own way(s) too

Awards:  First Place: $500     Second Place: $250     Third Place: $100

Eligibility:  The contest is open to all NMU undergraduates.

Deadline:  Monday, March 26th, 2018.  The winning entries will be announced in April.


This is a prose non-fiction contest.  Entries should be approximately 1,500-2,500 words.  The winning entries each year will be posted, with permission, on the English Department’s web site and the Marquette Monthly.

The judges are looking for well-written, well-developed, deeply thoughtful essays relevant to one of the topics below.  Winning essays will have a strong, ethically informed thesis.  Entries that cite research may follow any commonly used style guide to document their sources.  All entries ought to be much more than mere reports, marshaling reasons, evidence, argument, and above all insight, to support the author's original thesis.

To submit your entry, attach an electronic copy of your essay to an email and send to, with subject line = "Cohodas Literary Prize Submission," and the following information in the body of the email:

  • Your Name
  • NMU IN Number
  • Address
  • Phone Number
  • E-mail Addres

Students should NOT write their name or personal information on the story, only in the body of the email.

Topic Choices

  1. What has allowed genocide to occur, historically, and how can we guard against it happening again?
  2. What can students do to combat prejudice (of various kinds, and/or some specific type of prejudice that you think needs to be better understood?
  3. Who do you know of who has stood up heroically against injustice?  Or, if you yourself have experienced bigotry, how did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
  4. What is religion’s role in either promoting mutual respect or fomenting discord among peoples?
  5. Not only ethnic, "racial," and religious minorities can suffer from human-rights abuse, but so can other vulnerable groups. Women; those with "disabilities"; gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people; even so-called "intellectuals" (writers, artists, activists and political dissidents for example) who dare to speak out--all can/do suffer horrible abuse of various kinds, even today, and not only in the past.  And this is true--if in very different ways--in both "democratic" societies and dictatorships or "tyrannies."  Tell the story of a specific "kind" of human-rights abuse by explaining and interpreting the significance of a particular example of such abuse that is going on somewhere in the world now.   Pick something/someone(s) suffering persecution, in other words--some case you think people should be more aware of--and let the world know!
  6. How should we understand the significance of terrorism today--that form of mass-murder for political ends which some see as "genocidal," in that it intentionally targets innocent civilians, for one thing, and aims to destroy whole "civilizations" or "cultures" (groups of people and ways of life) for another?  What should we think/know/understand about governments that sponsor it?
  7. Why is civility (i.e., showing reasonably polite respect for others in public as a matter of habit) important?  What makes incivility (lack of consideration for others) a danger, and why are many people concerned about it these days in particular?  On the other hand, how can rigid enforcement of "civility codes" by those in authority potentially stifle free political expression and/or the "academic freedom" to inquire fearlessly into the nature of the human condition--and in the process of such fearless inquiry, maybe even question dominant assumptions in ways that may make some people in power uneasy?
  8. We use the same term, “genocide,” to describe various instances of mass-murder and other forms of gross human rights abuse aimed at destroying peoples.  And yet every case is different.  Either compare and contrast two or more examples of “genocide,” to show both what matters about each individually, specifically, and what can be learned by juxtaposing them.  Or, focus on and analyze the specifics of one case for what you think it reveals to us that we ought to know.
  9. What role has paranoid “conspiracy theory” played in justifying political violence in the past, and where do we see it reappearing today?
  10. How do not only “stereotypes” in general but very specific sorts of widely-circulated caricatures, images, myths and legends contribute to the demonizing of particular groups of people?  Analyze both historical and contemporary examples, with attention to both what is similar and different about each instance of demonization.