Two GWS Majors Win the Dean’s Prize

Each year the College of Letters & Science awards the Dean’s Prize to a few of the most outstanding scholars in the graduating senior class, which this year included 2022 Summer, 2022 Fall, and 2023 Spring graduates. To be honored, students must meet a list of basic requirements including a minimum 3.75 cumulative GPA, 24 completed honors credits, a depth of engagement to the principles of the Wisconsin Experience, and the highest recommendations from faculty and community leaders. 

It is with great pride that the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies provided one of the academic homes to two of the three 2023 Dean’s Prize awardees, Reilly Coon and Alanna Goldstein! GWS could not be prouder. Judith Houck, Chair of GWS, is delighted for these remarkable students. “We witness the passion and talent of our Gender and Women’s Studies students every day in our classrooms. We are elated that Alanna’s and Reilly’s accomplishments have been recognized by the College of Letters and Science through this Dean’s Prize. We have no doubt that these students will use their educations to make a difference in the world.”

Reilly Coon’s capacious interests could not be satisfied by just one major. Determined to take advantage of all that UW Madison offered, Reilly majored in History, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Political Science. She also earned a certificate in African Studies. Her senior thesis, “From Mother to Monster, Protector to Perpetrator: Framing Pauline Nyiramasuhuko’s Antithetical Identities at the ICTR,” written under the direction of Professor Emily Callaci (History), focused on the genocide trial of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko — the first woman indicted for genocide in an international tribunal. 

Professor Callaci spoke to the way Reilly relied on her Gender and Women’s Studies training as she investigated the gendered tropes and biases in her trial. “When Reilly first approached me about writing a thesis on Pauline Nyiramasuhuko — the first woman convicted of genocide for her role in the Rwandan genocide — I tried to persuade her to choose a different topic. I couldn’t imagine how a student could write a thesis on such a difficult and unusual topic. Reilly proved me wrong in the best possible way! Week after week, she combed through transcripts of the trial, and tried to find meaning in this story, honing her critical eye to understand the different historical forces at play in both the Rwanda genocide and in the gendered and racialized construction of Nyiramasuhuko on the international stage. In the end, Reilly wrote a wonderful and nuanced thesis. I was so impressed by what Reilly was able to accomplish.” 

Reilly points to countless faculty that have inspired her both in and out of the GWS department, including Professor Kathryn Ciancia, Professor Jess Waggoner, Professor Annie Menzel, and so many more. She writes, “It’s been such a fabulous experience to be part of this department!” 

Professor Waggoner had much to say about Reilly’s time as a GWS student, writing, “It is my deep pleasure to sing Reilly Coon’s praises. Reilly has been an absolute joy to work and think with. In our capstone course for GWS majors, I consistently drew from her thoughtful forum discussion questions to jumpstart discussion, and their verbal contributions always made deep, generative connections between the material and lived experiences. Reilly is also extremely generous in their feedback and engagement with others in the room. They are an excellent colleague and community member. In our capstone, Reilly would often vulnerably and humbly proffer what she called ‘half-formed thoughts’ — these thoughts always led us in beautiful directions. I always admired the persistence and brilliance of her (allegedly) ‘half-formed’ thoughts, which only deepened the safer space we cultivated in the classroom together. So many congrats to Reilly!”

Outside of her studies, Reilly has been involved in Bucky’s Classroom, Adventure Learning Programs, ARCHIVE, and the Associated Students of Madison. After graduation, she plans to take a gap year, but she hopes to eventually pursue a PhD in Higher Education and use her GWS education to advocate for accessibility for marginalized students on college campuses.

Portrait photo of Alanna Goldstein wearing a black shirt with a necklace.Alanna Goldstein graduated in December 2022 with comprehensive honors, majors in Gender and Women’s Studies and Political Science, and a certificate in LGBTQ+ Studies. Her thesis, “Poetics as Disobedience: Reimagining Academic Debate,” written under the supervision of Professor Jill Casid, examined the culture and politics of the national debate tournament. 

According to Professor Casid, “Alanna’s thesis bases itself in a close observational study of the ways that what is often called ‘Kritikal Debate’ uses poetry and poetic devices to transform the gate-keeping conduct of policy debate by not just questioning but altering its formal and implicit rules of conduct. Alanna’s thesis does not just contribute to producing knowledge about a subject that has received little scholarly attention. It also intervenes in the question of what — besides brute force and the force of tradition — is the ground of argument and its adjudication. This is an honors thesis that could not be more relevant in its importance.”

Professor Casid continued, “Alanna’s original and timely senior honors thesis research, and intersectional analysis represents the very best of what work in the engaged humanities can contribute to the core gate-keeping issues of differential access at the center of judgment and argumentation. It is concrete evidence that Alanna is already upholding the pillars of the Wisconsin Experience in changing the terrain of policy debate and analysis.”

In addition to her thesis, Alanna’s work was featured in the campus undergraduate journal Sifting & Winnowing. She also championed the LGBTQ+ community while a student, most notably by her work on UW Madison’s LGBTQ+ shared governance committee.

Alanna Goldstein with WI Governor Tony Evers standing in front of a decorative fireplace framed by the U.S. flag and the WI flag.

Alanna also worked part-time in the Office of the Governor and in the Wisconsin Department of Administration where she helped thousands of constituents negotiate pandemic relief programs for housing assistance. Post-graduation, Alanna continues to work as a Program and Policy Analyst for the Department of Administration.

Congratulations to all of the awardees of the 2022-2023 Dean’s Prizes, especially GWS student and new alums, Reilly and Alanna!