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Philosophy student writes winning essay at undergraduate research conference

STUDENT RESEARCH CONFERENCE IN HUMANITIES: Philosophy and English major Philip Cox (third from left) was the winning essayist at a unique undergraduate conference held at UTSC. From left are: Julie Witt of AEP, Professor Maria Assif, Philip Cox and Professor Christian Campbell. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

by Eleni Kanavas

A paper written by Philip Cox, a philosophy and English major, was named the best essay at a unique undergraduate conference held this past term at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC).

The 2010 Student Research Conference in the Humanities was an inaugural event that enabled undergraduate students in humanities to participate in an academic endeavour not usually open to anyone before the graduate school level. Prior to the conference, more than 40 undergraduate students voluntarily submitted creative writing essays on topics related to the concept of identity. They were vying for the award of excellence for best essay. A committee of UTSC faculty members reviewed the essays and shortlisted 23 of them, inviting those student writers to present their work at the conference held on March 17 on campus. The winner was announced at the event.

Cox’s winning paper is titled, “Mapping Boundaries, Human Bodies: The Imposition of Identity in Titus Andronicus.” It establishes thematic parallels between the construction of race and gender identities and cartographic practices prevalent in Shakespeare’s lifetime in Titus Andronicus, considered the bard’s bloodiest play. Cox argues that these constructions were deliberately used to subordinate women and African peoples as a means of justifying the exploitative practices of Europe’s economic expansion during the renaissance period.

“I’m absolutely surprised to be recognized for my essay, considering several of the papers presented by my peers were very well done, so I didn’t know if I deserved to win,” Cox said.

As the winning essayist, Cox received a $400 prize and a fully-paid trip to a destination within North America to present his paper at an undergraduate research conference. All of the presenters received a certificate of participation recognizing their work as undergraduate research scholars.

Students presented their essays within six discipline-specific roundtable discussions. The categories were: Identity and hip hop; identity and creative writing; identity and “the other”; identity and multiculturalism; female identity; and identity and drama, film, and the web.

“The conference was a wonderful opportunity for students to experience writing an essay that was not for a grade,” said Prof. Maria Assif, chair of the conference. “The experience engages students as young scholars to exchange ideas and be part of the scholarly dialogue.”

The conference also included a keynote address by Christian Campbell, an assistant professor of English at the U of T St. George campus, where he works at the intersection of Caribbean literature, African diaspora studies, poetry/poetics, cultural studies, postcolonial theory and creative writing.

“As a participant, it’s important to try and get a voice in the public space especially among people who want to pursue academia at the graduate level,” Cox said. “It’s also interesting to learn from one another and to present our essays to our peers outside of the classroom.”

In his final year of studies at U of T Scarborough, Cox would like to pursue a PhD program and explore the intersections of social theory, ethics and narrative studies to understand the place of imagination in society. However, Cox says he will be taking some time off after he graduates in June to apply all of the theory he has accrued to the labour force.

“I think it’s becoming increasingly urgent to strive for a balance between theoretical training and practical application, since neither one goes very far without the other.”

With continued support from the Department of Humanities and Arts & Events Programming (AEP), Assif said the Student Research Conference in the Humanities is expected to take place again next year. Students are encouraged to participate in the conference by submitting creative essays on the topic of violence, a common theme in the Humanities discourse.

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