2018 Grawemeyer Awards honor work in genocide, black liberation, college affordability & diversity

Winners of the 2018 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Awards were announced last week.

Honorees include a celebrated music composer, an advocate for the overhaul of college financial aid, an expert on African genocide, the founder of black liberation theology and a psychologist who explains the many types of intelligence.

The Grawemeyer Awards, created in 1984 by philanthropist Charlie Grawemeyer, recognize the power of big ideas and come with a $100,000 prize.

Winners will visit Louisville during the spring, 2018, semester to conduct lectures and take part in discussions about their ideas.

Meet the 2018 winners:

Scott Straus, world order


Scott Straus


Political science professor and author Scott Straus has won the 2018 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order for his 2015 book, “Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa.”

In the book, Straus, who teaches at University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains how ideas and political messages can become tipping points for genocide. His original research examines patterns and circumstances that have resulted in genocide and contrasts those with similar situations where genocide seemed likely to happen but did not. Straus contends that the “founding narratives” of national leaders can determine whether an ethnic minority is tolerated or deemed a threat to the state.

“Straus’s work alerts us to the circumstances under which genocide emerges and he identifies key points when action by national leaders, and efforts by the international community, can halt the slide into mass violence,” said Charles Ziegler, award director and a member of UofL’s department of political science.

Straus specializes in the study of genocide, political violence, human rights and African politics. He has written extensively about violence in Rwanda. His Grawemeyer Award-winning book and others have garnered high acclaim. His honors include an appointment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council by President Barack Obama. Before starting in academia, Straus was a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, education


Sara Goldrick-Rab


A Temple University professor who conducted painstaking research into the modern struggle to pay for a college education in the United States has won the 2018 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Education.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor in Temple University’s College of Education, published her findings in her award-winning 2016 book, “Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid and the Betrayal of the American Dream.”

 In it, Goldrick-Rab finds that U.S. students have been left behind by soaring costs combined with a financial aid system that has not kept up with demand. The result is a generation that, during a time when a college education is ever more important, is unable to get ahead because of crushing debt and unfinished degrees.

“Goldrick-Rab asserts the blame rests with the financial aid system,” said Marion Hambrick, award director and faculty member in UofL’s College of Education and Human Development. “She argues the higher education structure—including how financial aid is calculated and awarded, how costs of attendance are calculated, and how higher education institutions are managed—needs a significant overhaul.”

She details students’ struggles with not only tuition and books, but also lack of transportation, homelessness and food insecurity, and offers several solutions, including a public sector-focused “first degree free” program.

“This book is intended to be a wake-up call,” writes Goldrick-Rab, who teaches higher education policy and sociology. “It brings the lives of students pursuing college degrees front and center and unveils their financial struggles.”

James H. Cone, religion


James Cone


Between 1880 and 1940, nearly 5,000 black men and women were lynched in the United States. In response, African American Christians turned to their religion and to the cross of Jesus as a symbol of suffering but also of profound hope. Despite these violent killings and the centrality of the cross in Christian communities, the lynching tree did not occupy any space in the American theological imagination.

In The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis Books, 2011), renowned theologian James H. Cone passionately conjoins the provocative images of the first-century cross and the twentieth-century lynching tree.

“The crucifixion was clearly a first-century lynching,” said Cone. “Both are symbols of the death of the innocent, mob hysteria, humiliation, and terror. They both also reveal a thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning and demonstrate that God can transform ugliness into beauty, into God’s liberating presence.”

The book earned Cone the 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, jointly with the University of Louisville, awards the $100,000 prize to honor and publicize creative and significant insights into the relationship between human beings and the divine. The award also recognizes ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity, or meaning, either individually or in community.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree received the 2012 Nautilus Silver Award in Religion/Spirituality-Western Traditions. It was an Amazon.com #1 best seller in religion in February 2012. Naming it one of the top religion books of 2011, Huffington Post editors said: “One of the great theologians of the late 20th century, Cone forces us to look hard at suffering, oppression and, ultimately, redemption.”

Known as the founder of black liberation theology, Cone is the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Robert Sternberg, psychology


Robert Sternberg


What makes us most likely to succeed? Cornell University psychologist Robert Sternberg has won the 2018 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology for his concept of “successful intelligence.”

Sternberg, a professor of human development, was selected for the prize for his view that intelligence encompasses several components that help people succeed in different ways in their own environments. Those components include analytical-reasoning skills, creative-thinking skills, common-sense practical skills and wisdom-based and ethical skills. A command of all those skills helps people adapt to a fast-changing world, capitalize on their strengths and compensate for or correct their weaknesses.       

As the current educational system tends to favor traditional learners who excel at memory and analytical reasoning, Sternberg asserts that the system needs better ways to reach, teach and test learners with practical or creative skills. Although the usual measurements of “smartness” rely on the more narrowly defined IQ (intelligence quotient) and college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT, Sternberg contends that intelligence is complex and should not be evaluated in a single way. For example, college admission processes could be modified to include better predictors of student and future success.

“Sternberg’s work has resulted in changes in college admission processes that have leveled the playing field for individuals from diverse backgrounds and, thus, has increased student diversity,” said Professor Woody Petry, award director and a faculty member of UofL’s department of psychological and brain sciences. “His ideas, which have been applied globally in developed and developing nations, emphasize the importance of cultural context in the assessment of successful intelligence.”  

A Cornell faculty member since 2014, Sternberg previously taught at and was an administrator for Oklahoma State, Tufts and Yale universities. He has more than 1,700 research publications and his many honors include the Association for Psychological Science’s top awards for both basic and for applied science and 13 honorary doctorates. Sternberg is an honorary professor at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science as well as many other professional organizations.

Bent Sorensen, music composition


Bent Sorenson
Bent Sorenson


Read Source: 2018 Grawemeyer Awards announced (UofL News, Dec. 5, 2017)