Seniors recognized for thesis, seminar work

Written by
Sarah Malone, Program in American Studies
May 29, 2020

The Program in American Studies has honored Princeton seniors Vayne Ong with the Princeton Prize in Race Relations Senior Thesis Prize, Tabitha Belshee with the Willard Thorp Thesis Prize, Grace Koh with the Asher Hinds Prize, Allegra E. Martschenko with the Grace May Tilton Prize in Fine Arts, and Tessa Albertson with the David F. Bowers Prize.

Princeton Prize in Race Relations Senior Thesis Prize

Endowed by the Princeton University Class of 1966, the prize is awarded annually to a member of the senior class, irrespective of academic concentration, whose senior thesis adds significantly to understanding of issues of race and race relations in the United States, broadly defined.

Vayne Ong’s prize winning thesis, “Springwood Avenue Rising: Race, Leisure, and Decline in the 1970 Asbury Park Uprising,” presents a story of local history, race relations, urban studies, and archival recovery that the prize committee found “gripping and extremely well-told,” noting superb primary source research, vivid writing, and a persuasive and well-supported argument.

In the thesis, Ong, a concentrator in history, reconsiders what happened in Asbury Park in 1970 within a critical framework of the Black freedom struggle rather than the categories of "urban unrest" or "race riot." Ong concludes that “the 1970 Asbury Park uprising was devastating and costly. It was a series of tactics which brought different actors onto the streets, and into meeting rooms, where they could finally confront each other. Even if only through a multitude of small but enduring wins, it was successful.”

Willard Thorp Thesis Prize

Tabitha Belshee’s thesis, “Doing Right by Our Children: Understanding and Redressing President Trump’s ‘Zero-Tolerance Policy’,” analyzes child separation at the U.S. border, focusing on migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

The prize committee noted that Belshee, a politics concentrator, “deftly” deploys multiple methods — historical overview; policy analysis; and application of two models of quantitative data analysis, neural network modeling and game theory. “Her argument is persuasive,” the committee concluded, “and her presentation of data, including her predictive account of the fates of three fictional children using the neural network model, are compelling.”

The Thorp prize — named in honor of Professor of English Willard Thorp a founder of the program and for many years its director — is awarded to the senior in the American studies program who prepares the most outstanding thesis of a clearly interdisciplinary nature.

Asher Hinds Prize

Grace Koh, a concentrator in history, received the Hinds prize for “The Origins of a Nation: Constructing a ‘Korean Nation’ from the Three Kingdoms of Korea.”

The prize, established in memory of Professor of English Asher Hinds by his students and colleagues, is awarded to the senior who does the most outstanding work in the humanities.

The committee found Koh’s thesis “impressively sourced, especially its use of textbooks to chart the rise and fall of ‘one nation’ versus ‘Three Kingdoms’ rhetoric in response to shifting geopolitical exigencies, including the Park regime’s alliance with former colonizer Japan.” The committee noted that the thesis is useful for parsing current events on the peninsula.

Grace May Tilton Prize in Fine Arts

School of Architecture senior Allegra E. Martschenko received the Tilton prize for her thesis “Between the One and the Other: Textual Imagination as Architectural Method.”

The prize, a gift of Robert Schirmer ’21 in memory of his mother, is awarded for a thesis exploring an aspect of the fine arts or crafts, past or present, within the present territory of the United States, or elsewhere in the Americas.

The prize committee commended Martschenko for “a deft, smart, and nuanced exploration of the mutually formative relationship between literature and architecture” that turns attention to collaboration between writing and architecture “at the level of the design process.” Martschenko characterizes the relationship between architecture and literature as “not about knowledge transfer...but about knowledge creation.”

David F. Bowers Prize

In awarding the Bowers prize to Tessa Albertson, a concentrator in English, the prize committee agreed with nominator Brian Herrera, associate professor of theater and American studies executive committee member, that “her every curricular and co-curricular endeavor manifests a sophisticated curiosity about what it means to bring disparate disciplines together in responsible, meaningful and transformative collaboration.”

Albertson is “deeply committed to interdisciplinarity,” said Professor of Dance Judith Hamera, acting director of the Program in American Studies. Associate Director Rachael DeLue, the Christopher Binyon Sarofim '86 Professor in American Art, notes: “She is a truly engaged student, a vibrant and creative thinker whose curiosity about a subject extends well beyond the classroom.”

The prize, established in 1951 in memory of Professor of Philosophy David F. Bowers and endowed in 1955 by Willard and Margaret Thorp, honors the senior in the American studies program who does the best work in program seminars.

Class Day 2020

In 2020, in lieu of a Class Day gathering, and to celebrate and honor the entire cohort of American, Asian American, and Latino studies certificate students, the Program in American Studies invited seniors to meet for a Zoom photo, and contribute to a video shared with graduating seniors and their families.

“Congratulations to the winners of these prestigious awards, and we celebrate their excellent work,” said Anne Cheng, professor of English and American studies, and director of the Program in American Studies. “And we are proud of all of our students and honor their achievements and perseverance.”

A public version of the video was posted on the program website, following the originally scheduled June 1 Class Day.