Halina Hopkins, a senior biology, environmental science, and humanities major from Columbus, Indiana, was awarded Valparaiso's Donnelley Prize for her essay "The Environmental Ethics of Living Jim Crow." The prize is presented annually for the most outstanding student essay on a subject involving humankind's relationship to the environment.
The winning essay was selected by faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences and Christ College, Valparaiso's interdisciplinary honors college.
Hopkins receives a cash prize of $750 and will be supported up to $2,500 for an internship or research project connected to environmental issues.
In her essay, Hopkins explores the ethical perspectives nature and the environment revealed in Richard Wright’s short story, “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow.” Hopkins’s essay demonstrates through a close analysis of Wright’s story some of the reasons that African American culture has had a complex relationship to nature. This is especially because white power frequently defined the category of “nature” in ways that defined blacks as less than fully human, and thus inhibited them from free and creative engagement with the environment. Hopkins shows that through his powerfully imaginative story, Wright offers a path to overcoming this alienation and asserting an authentic ethic that could free nature from racially constructed meanings.
Hopkins, who will graduate as a Christ College Scholar, has worked as a tutorial assistant for honors students and a laboratory aide in the Department of Biology. “Halina Hopkins has been a superb student in both the natural sciences and the humanities,” said Dean Mel Piehl, Christ College. “In her Donnelley Prize essay she combines her gift for insightful literary analysis with her deep commitment to environmental ethics and social justice.”
The Donnelley Prize was established by Dr. Strachan and Vivian Donnelley to engage VU students in interdisciplinary research regarding humans and nature. Dr. Donnelley, one of the first faculty members to teach in Christ College, was director of the Humans and Nature Program at the Hastings Center in Garrison, N.Y., and died in 2008. Vivian Donnelley is a Valparaiso alumnus.