Fall, 2020 WCI Writing Contest

Writing and Critical Inquiry Contest Celebration

Fall 2020

Personal Essay Category:

Winner: “Shame” by Astrid Marz

Bio: Astrid is a second-year student at the University, majoring in Political Science with minors in History and Spanish. On campus, she's involved in several student organizations. Outside of campus, she's passionate about women's issues, animal rights, and environmentalism and hopes to raise awareness of these topics through her writing and activism. 

Student Feedback:

 “I can’t even begin to completely explain what I felt while reading“ “Shame”. It was like the air was pulled from my lungs, and I could no longer register the background noise around me. All I heard was that distinct ear ringing that only comes and goes once in a blue moon. My body was heavy, and it felt like I was there in the essay for a moment in time. Maybe it was because I had a similar experience in my life, who doesn’t have a bad partner at least once? It was creepily similar sometimes, where my conscience and the writers might have blended for a split second during the telling. Maybe it was because the actions and reactions took me back, shocked me out of my socks and slipped my feet into the author’s shoes for just as many minutes as it took to read the essay. The descriptions had me feel all they described to the reader, like I was the person they were talking to, like I was the only one who would ever read these words.”

                                                                                                -Mia Comiskey









"Rain on the Fairgrounds"  by William Besterman

Bio: Will Besterman is a second year student at the University at Albany. He is a psychology major with minors in neuroscience and philosophy. Will has been interested in writing since he was a child and hopes to someday publish a novel. He is also passionate about about music, art, and equal rights. Will hopes to obtain his doctorate in psychology and go on to be a practicing clinical psychologist.

Student Feedback: “The reason why I chose ‘’Rain On The Fairgrounds’’ as my favorite is because the author did a really great job at phrasing her personal experiences in detail whether he wrote of standing in front of the mirror in solitude or using the weather symbolically to describe his mental state.”

                                                                                                -Manny Oramas

"The Theory Behind a Vacuum" by Kavipriya (Kavi) Kovai Palanivel

Bio: Kavipriya Kovai Palanivel is a junior in the Honors College at UAlbany. She is currently a Biology major and pre-medical student. She’s also interested in pursuing a public health minor. At UAlbany, she is passionate about her position as an events coordinator of the pre-health organization, Doctors For (IV) Hope, and have been actively involved in organizing and hosting virtual events for our members. She is also a WCI peer mentor in Dr. Giragosian’s class and loves to lead discussions and guide students in her class. WCI has taught her to not only critically think about literature and broader ideas, but to also effectively articulate her arguments and thoughts.

Student Feedback:

“This essay is very unique in how it talks about the way a place can make you feel. The author doesn’t directly state that they love India but from the way they paint a picture of emotions, the reader can tell. They describe India as home and how it gives them a sense of being whole. When the author talks about the way they felt when they returned home gives a feeling of incompleteness. I as the reader can tell that a piece of this person belongs in India. When the author writes about moving far away from India to Germany, they start to express how they long for it. They even address how their home in Singapore is far different than their life in Germany. The author is very connected to the places they live or have been to and it has an impact on their life. The author's home is in India and the way they write about it and the visual images we are given express that.”

                                                                                    -Amber Ellis

Analytical Essay Category:

Winner: “Exposing Racial Injustice with Poetry" by Monica Alexander

Bio: Monica is a sophomore in the Honors College majoring in biology and minoring in journalism. She plans to go into biological research, medical research, and/or science writing. In her free time, her hobbies include dance, violin, and painting.

Student Feedback:

“I chose this analysis paper because of how deeply the writer is able to interpret and break down the poem into multiple relevant meanings. The writer is able to take a stanza or two or even just two words in the poem and make several real-life connections. The writer connects the content of the poetry to its historical references and cultural references. They are also able to identify the literary tools being used within the poetry in order to convey certain meanings. The writer’s ability to analyze in depth is highlighted in the way that they even analyze the physical formatting and presentation of the poem and are able to draw meaning and intent.”
                                                                                                -Sofia Jimenez-Phelps  









"Civil Court Rulings on Child Custody" by Michael Caggianelli

Bio: Michael Caggianelli is a sophomore at the University at Albany who is majoring in Criminal Justice. He intends to pursue the school’s new Law and Philosophy minor. At present, he lives in a small town just outside of Schenectady, so not too far from campus.

He is enrolled in the university’s 3+3 law program, and intends to go to law school. Additionally, he’s a student assistant at the Office of the New York State Attorney General.

He was inspired to research child custody laws after a family friend expressed her frustrations over her custody battle for her grandson. He was able to learn quite a bit about child custody laws within New York, in addition to how they’ve changed and evolved over the years. Also, this piece really helped him become more proficient at analyzing the things he reads. Overall, he really found this project (and the WCI course as a whole) to be interesting, as well as a good way to hone his writing skills.

Student Feedback:

“The paper “Civil Court Rulings on Child Custody” is a powerful one…The paper commences by introducing the topic of family court and the stigmatization surrounding it. Later in the introduction, the author narrows down the topic by discussing the rights of adoptive parents and biological parents, specifically in New York. This narrowing was very effective in that the audience knew exactly what to expect the paper was going to be about. The text then continues to discuss various cases and laws that have pertained to this issue in recent times. Later on, he discusses the detrimental impacts of some of the past court decisions for specifically the youth of the LGBTQ+ community and custody regarding grandparents. As the papers comes to a close, he shares some of the recent positive steps regarding this issue which gives the reader a sense of hope. Although this is a topic that naturally interests me, I feel as though this was the most effective analysis. The author not only introduced his own topic, but did an effective job of analyzing it in an unbiased manner and providing different perspectives regarding the issue as well as all of the factors that play a role in this complex and enduring problem.”       

                                                                                                            -Tori Smalley

"Metaphors: The Key to Representing the Intersectional Nature and Causes of Oppression" by Kavi Kovai Palanivel

Student Feedback:

“The essay I give first ranking to is “The Key to Representing the Intersectional nature and Causes of Oppression”, where Alice Walker’s personal essay “Am I Blue?” is examined. I enjoy the exploration and depth this essay goes into, to fully understand and pinpoint all the metaphors that Alice Walker had throughout her personal essay, “Am I Blue?”. There is extensive use of reference from the personal essay, and even goes into more details about Alice Walker herself that are not built on or even mentioned in the personal essay. The essayist utilizes outside knowledge of Walker’s identity “as a queer and African - American woman” to demonstrate her knowledge as the oppressed individual, how she can directly recognize the oppression of animals like Blue. The essayist addresses how Walker believes all lives are interconnected, and though we may all take form in different bodies, we can all feel a range of emotions and be conscious during situations. Interconnecting Walker’s own activism and identity with the many metaphors and examples she gives throughout her essay, while building and elaborating on the overlapping of comparisons and extended metaphors, these are just some of the examples I applaud the essayist for.”

                                                                                                -Mia Comiskey

Conversation/ Research Essay Category:

Winner: “Louisiana’s Teen Pregnancies” by Gianna Gjelaj

Bio: Gianna Gjelaj is a junior in the School of Social Welfare here at the University at Albany. She is a social welfare major with a concentration on welfare surrounding families and children. Gianna enjoys painting, hiking, and adventuring during her free time. 

Student Feedback:

“The subject of this paper is the sex education system in the state of Louisiana and how its “abstinence-only” method of sex education has led to high amounts of teen pregnancy, STIs, an inability to include members of the LGBTQ+ community, and other issues among sexually active teens. What I liked best about this paper was how the author started off their paper and introduced their topic with the story of the teen girl who became a mother her freshmen year of high school and who came from a family that had a history of teen pregnancy. I thought this made the topic of this paper very clear and helped the writer introduce their claim towards the end of their introduction about how Louisiana needs to change its method of sex education in order to prevent teen pregnancy. The author did an excellent job supporting this claim with statistics and other sufficient evidence to educate the readers about why Louisiana’s “abstinence-only” method is so dangerous to teenagers. I also liked how the author used sufficient evidence to back their claim about how this sex-ed system needs to change by discussing “comprehensive sex education,” such as how the Netherlands has implemented this system and how it has been successful. Finally, I liked how the writer included their experience with sex-ed and how it shaped their view on what sex-ed should be like. This tied the whole paper together and helped them support their claim that Louisiana really needs to change the way they teach sex-ed and allow for more options other than “abstinence-only” methods.”  -Anne Fraser










“An Alternative Definition of “Black”: Challenging Hollywood’s Attempt at Inclusion” By Monica Alexander

Student Feedback: “This was a really well written essay with many valid points brought up and supported. This writer was very clear and did well at explaining why each issue presented was problematic and wrong. I also think this essay was strong in its message and it caused me to agree with the writer without any rebuttals or questions.”

                                                                        -Taryn Hodge

“An Argument for Modern Media in Politics” By Madeleine Wadeson

BioMadeleine is a Sophomore at UAlbany. She is majoring in Political Science with a minor in Urban Studies and Planning. She is a part of the Political Science Honors Program as well as The Honors College. Madeleine is passionate about helping those who are left out of politics gain a voice and a platform to have their views heard. Her interests include activism, environmental justice, social justice, and gender equality. On campus, Madeleine is a Tour Guide, a member of the National Leadership Fraternity Omicron Delta Kappa, and a member of the Sustainability Club. Madeleine is very thankful to have been able to learn from Dr. Giragosian about critical thinking in not just the field of writing, but in academia overall.

Student Feedback:

“I think the essay, “An Argument for Modern Media in Politics,” should win the conversation essay contest for several reasons. First, the writer stated a very clear claim with lots of backing. The claim challenges the use of modern technology and explains the negatives that come along with technology throughout the essay. For example, when the writer explains the numerous “tweets” that are being posted by President Trump on twitter, they explain how many people misinterpreted the messages and received false information. The writer states, “with unrestricted information flow from authority figures on Twitter, dangerous and false information can be spread quickly and easily.” This supports the claim that although modern technology can be impactful, it can also bring harm and negativity to a situation. Additionally, the writer incorporated quotes nicely and analyzes each quote with backing. I really enjoyed reading this essay and learning from the different sources the writer used.”

                                                                                    -Hannah Slavsky

“The Vitality of an Intersectional Perspective When Considering the Social Identity and Oppression of African American Women” By Kavi Kovai Palanivel

Student Feedback:

“I really enjoyed this essay and think the writer did a nice job at connecting intersexuality, “Am I Blue?,” and the oppression of black women. I also thing this essay did a really nice job at pointing at that although all black women’s life experiences aren’t exactly the same, they have overlapping oppressions.”

                                                                                    -Taryn Hodge