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:  Tuesday, March 10th, 2020. 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 essay, only in the body of the email.

Topic Choices


1. Liberalism and Illiberalism. Has liberalism failed? The political philosopher, Patrick Deneen, will speak on this topic at 7pm in Jamrich 1322, on March 21. Attend the lecture, which is free and open to the public, and write a response to what you hear. Optional/recommended: read some of Deneen’s book, Why Liberalism Failed, and refer to it in your essay.


2. Intersectionality and Exclusion. Does the current drive among social justice activists to take account of “intersectionality” represent progress toward greater inclusion and sensitivity to a multiplicity of forms of injustice? Or is it a strange case of selective sensitivity, unfairly applied for the sake of an unforgiving brand of identity politics? As an example of how difficult and painful discussions around this topic have been lately, for progressive feminists in particular, read this shocking account of a recent event at which some lesbians were expelled.


3. Civility and Incivility. 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 bureaucrats or administrators stifle “free speech” and hamper the “academic freedom” to inquire fearlessly into the nature of the human condition that defines the university?


4. Conspiracy Theory and Threats to Democracy. 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?


5. The Holocaust and Genocide. How is the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews distinct from genocide as a general category? What made the Holocaust unprecedented and qualitatively distinct in human affairs? How does thoughtlessness (lack of knowledge, intellectual laziness, etc.) threaten to hide the fact of the Holocaust’s uniqueness? Be specific. Go into details. To support your answer, refer to either Yehuda Bauer’s 2001 book, Rethinking the Holocaust, or Alvin Rosenfeld’s 2011 volume, The End of the Holocaust. The point of the exercise is obviously not to rank human misery in a “Suffering Olympics,” but to face the moral and intellectual challenge put to understanding by radical evil.


6. Fighting Prejudice. What can students do to combat harmful prejudice?


7. Standing Up to Injustice. 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?


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


9. Terrorism. How should one understand the disturbing brand of human rights violation labeled “terrorism”? How do we think about mass murder for political ends, intentionally directed at civilians and aimed indifferently against whole groups of people, targeted for assassination along ethnic, religious, national or cultural lines?


10. Anti-Social Media. 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 Nagle’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 from social justice warriors 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?


11. Jew-Hatred and the Jewish State. Antisemitism (hatred of Jews) and anti-Zionism (hatred of Israel) are on the rise again in our time, after several decades of relative quiescence (following the shock of the Holocaust, which now seems to have worn off). Read this short discussion by a leading scholar of these twin hatreds, and write a response to it.


12.  Islamophobia and Antisemitism. From Pittsburgh, USA, to Christchurch, New Zealand, horrifying intolerance of religious and ethnic differences is on display. As British columnist Brendan O'Neill observes, such atrocities "confirm that identitarianism is now a scourge of the violent right as well as the woke left." Write an essay about Islamophobia and antisemitism as troubling instances of intolerance, in relation to the broader phenomenon of identity politics in our time.


13.  Free Speech and Censorship. As Frederick Douglass famously said, "To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker." With this thought in mind, write about censorship versus toleration of views one disagrees with, in the quest for social progress. Is "no-platforming" controversial speakers the answer to disagreement, loudly shutting down or quietly boycotting those with opinions different from one's own? Or is a progressive society one that actively engages in robust conversation, uncensored civil dialogue and even, at times, contentious debate concerning matters of controversy?