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Voices of the Divide Audio Essay Contest

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Announcing the winners

​Sarah McBride, National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign

Watch the video. View the slideshow. Read an interview with Sarah McBride. Read the transcript of Sarah McBride's keynote address. Read about reactions to the Voices contest.

Photos by Kevin Quinlan

FEBRUARY 27, 2018―To conclude the fall 2017 Voices of the Divide Audio Essay Contest for University of Delaware students, political leader Sarah McBride delivered a keynote address at an awards event to announce the winners and congratulate the honorees. "I was deeply, deeply moved by each one that I heard," said McBride, who is the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. "At the end of the day, the way we move past the political divide that we are in isn't through stats or through facts. It's through stories, through all of us sharing our own lived experiences."

Young people can play an important role as leaders in politics, demanding social change with the "fierce urgency of now," said McBride, recalling the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "That’s what we saw in so many of your essays. We saw that ability to envision a world where you can be gay, you can be trans, you can be a woman, you can be black, you can be Muslim, you can be a person of any faith and still be seen, still be valued, and still be respected as the equal people that we all are."

The College of Arts and Sciences Dean George Watson thanked the contest participants for their willingness to openly share their personal and emotional experiences through powerful storytelling. The Vice Provost of Diversity Carol Henderson emphasized the importance of using stories to connect humanity and the strength of young voices. "The movement is always about young people. You are our promise."

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In a university-wide initiative to give those who feel marginalized a chance to tell their stories, more than 50 University of Delaware students participated in the Voices of the Divide Audio Essay Contest during the fall 2017 semester. Students submitted personal and emotional stories about a variety of topics, including racism, immigration, religious differences, partisan politics, sexual harassment, homophobia, and geographical differences.

Judging was based on originality and creativity; understanding of the theme; delivery; and production value. The CPC announced the winners at an awards banquet on February 26 and presented awards of $500 to $50 to first-place, second-place, third-place, and three honorable mention recipients. Delaware Public Media (WDDE 91.1 and WMPH 91.7) and WVUD Radio (91.3) will air the winning essays.

First Place

After Dinner―Oscar de Paz, a Ph.D. student studying energy and environmental policy, describes an encounter while cleaning up after dinner with his family in his story of innocence lost.

Second Place

Afraid―Madeline Merritts, a junior studying media communication, depicts the anxiety and fear that women and girls experience because of unwanted attention and sexualization.

Third Place

Fitting In―Monique Harmon, a junior studying English, shares her perspective of belonging to a religion that isn't considered to be part of mainstream American society.

Honorable Mention

Division in Mental Health―Alex Baker, a junior studying communication, describes his own struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and the stigmatization that people with mental illness must confront.

Pretty Hurts―Michelle Dao, a junior studying art history, examines the reductionist complement, "You're pretty for an Asian."

Occupying Space: A Case Study of My Female Identity―Taylor Garbowski, a sophomore studying environmental and resource economics, reconciles the conflict she feels between her personal identity as a female and the expectations of society.

Special Recognition

The CPC commends the remaining finalists:

Fight Like a Woman―Kristina Curran, a senior studying English, shares her experience of being treated unfairly because of her gender.

Life Against the Narrative―Jessica Jenkins, a junior studying English, recalls a sexual assault and the frustration of not being believed.

The Struggle―Stacy Rahaka Mahiga, a senior studying communication, describes her struggle to feel accepted in America since emigrating from Kenya when she was 12 years old.

Still Standing―Katie Mazur, a junior studying political science and media communication, shares her passion for politics and desire to express her conservative views.

About the contest

The CPC hosted the collaborative project, inviting students to join the campus-wide conversation about this year's National Agenda theme: "As We Stand | Divided." The project ran in tandem with the CPC's National Agenda Speaker Series, which explored the divides that exist in the United States, including gender, geographic, religious, partisan, and cultural. The CPC produced the program in partnership with the University Writing Center, the University of Delaware Library, Delaware Public Media (WDDE 91.1 and WMPH 91.7), the College of Arts & Sciences Journalism Program, WVUD Radio (91.3), and the University of Delaware Vice Provost for Diversity.

The University of Delaware Library hosted a production workshop at the Student Multimedia Design Center last October to provide technical support. Participants learned tips for writing a script, recording their voice, and using software for basic editing. Tom Byrne, news director with Delaware Public Media, and Nico Carver, coordinator of Student Multimedia Design Center Services, taught the workshop. Throughout the semester, the University Writing Center helped students with organizing, composing, and delivering their essays.

The CPC debuted the Voices project as part of its mission to promote civic engagement. Through nonpartisan, interdisciplinary outreach, the CPC equips students and the community with the political, social, and communication literacy needed to engage in civil discourse.

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