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, national and cross-cultural understanding

—Eliminating racism, sexism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and hatred of the Other

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

—Remembering the evil of the Nazi Holocaust of European Jewry by promoting awareness of genocide and crimes against humanity

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

Eligibility:  The contest is open to all NMU undergraduates.

Deadline:  Monday, March 25th, 2019. 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 should 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 Address

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

Topic Choices

1. Have college campuses become spaces of anti-intellectual intolerance? “Micro-aggressions,” “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings”…a barrage of stigmatizing buzzwords threatens to chill free speech on campus by proscribing “dangerous” ideas, thus diminishing instead of enhancing viewpoint diversity. Whatever happened to fearless inquiry? By contrast, the distinguished historian of ideas, Mark Lilla, will pose a challenge to all the latest tactics of authoritarian illiberalism, and more, when he stands up for intellectual freedom as the lifeblood of the academy—at NMU on the evening of April 12, with a lecture entitled, “Citizenship and Identity.” The event is free and open to the public. A question and answer period will follow, with student leaders from across the political spectrum starting things off. In preparation for Lilla’s visit, read his much-discussed best-selling 2017 defense of mainstream American democracy against the far-left and far-right, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, and state your own views on his timely theme of both “political correctness” and the “alt-right” backlash against it as threats to liberty and justice for all—either to lend support for the author’s positions, if you happen to agree with them, to state your own views if you happen to disagree, or some combination of the two if you can see it from more than one angle. In other words, address the question: What does Mark Lilla say about “identity politics” and “liberalism,” and is he correct or not? Be sure to also say why it matters, in either case!


2. As Robert Heinlein said, “A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” Why is cultivating civility (i.e., polite respect for others in public as a matter of common decency) so important nowadays, more than ever? What makes incivility (vulgar lack of consideration for others’ sensibilities) a serious danger, and why are lots of people concerned about the rise of incivility in America? On the other hand, how can rigid enforcement of codes of behavior by poorly educated petty bureaucrats or self-serving administrators potentially stifle “free speech” and/or wreck the “academic freedom” to inquire fearlessly into the nature of the human condition that defines the university?


3. What role has paranoid “conspiracy theory” played in justifying political violence in the past, and where do we see it reappearing today? Alternatively, what does it mean that our politics have become so “polarized,” as many commentators have observed? One way to approach this kind of question is to read the important new 2018 book, How Democracies Die, by Daniel Ziblatt and Fred Sanders, and report what you learn. How do we keep democracy, which depends on trust in shared institutions, from dissolving into factions at war with one another?


4. What made the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews a distinctive evil, qualitatively unique and different from other atrocities? How does thoughtlessness threaten to hide the devastating fact of the Holocaust’s difference from us? Be specific. Go into details. Refer to the definitive 2001 book by Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, to support your answer (either to agree with Bauer or, if you can, dispute what the the leading historian of the Holocaust tells us). Alternatively, consider another genocide from the point of view of its own unique characteristics set beside whatever else it shares with other cases (each case is different). The point of this exercise is not to rank anyone’s suffering “above” or “below” anyone else’s, of course—but rather to avoid losing sight of the details that matter and so leaving everything a blur. It’s not the suffering olympics, but the challenge to understanding posed by radical evil.


5. What can students do to combat harmful prejudice?


6. 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?


7. What has allowed genocide to occur in the past and what can be done to prevent it in the future?


8. How should one understand that disturbing brand of human rights abuse called “terrorism”—or mass murder for political ends—directed intentionally at civilians and aimed indifferently against whole groups targeted for assassination along ethnic, religious, national or cultural lines?


9. Without the virtues of moderation, forbearance, and toleration, democracies die. Is ours in trouble? How do today’s illiberal political extremes co-create one another, and together threaten to derail American democracy? More specifically, how do far-right White Nationalism (neo-Nazism) and far-left “political correctness” (identity politics) strangely resemble one another, as each of these competing totalitarianisms reacts against and reinforces the other? Read Angela Nagel’s widely discussed 2017 book, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, in order to see how she diagnoses today’s far-right as a twisted response to decades of intimidation by virtue-signaling “PC” social justice warriors (SJWs) on college campuses. What do we need to understand about both extremes in order to defend the “vital center,” around which our national civic life and its human rights culture are built?


10. Luis Alberto Urrea will speak at NMU on February 27 to discuss his book—and this year's Diversity Common Reader—Nobody’s Son: Notes on an American Life. In preparation for his visit, read Nobody's Son and consider Urrea's representation of the U.S./Mexico border, national and ethnic identity, language, and/or citizenship. Using Urrea's book and your own research, discuss how the “problem” of Mexican immigration to the United States should be addressed in order to protect the human rights of immigrants. Because language is a key theme in Urrea's book, pay special attention to the language that characterizes public discourse on immigration in the United States (e.g. racist language, problematic terms like “illegals,” etc.). Alternatively, choose another specific instance of conflict over immigration—in the United States or elsewhere—and discuss in light of Urrea's book.