Drew Student Wins Top Prize for Research on Women at Abu Ghraib

Second straight year Drew finished first.

May 2019 – For the second straight year, a Drew University student earned first prize at the New Jersey Women’s and Gender Studies Undergraduate Colloquium.

Shaylyn MacKinnon, a senior majoring in international relations, English and Spanish, was recognized for a paper shedding light on the Iraqi women who were abused and tortured at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

“The general public had no idea that women were held at Abu Ghraib at all, let alone that they were reportedly raped and tortured,” said MacKinnon, who after graduation will serve the Peace Corps in Rwanda. “The panel I presented on was focused on the importance of telling the stories of silenced groups, and so I think it was that aspect of my paper that really stood out to the judges.”

Also honored at the conference was Hailey Benson, a senior majoring in women’s and gender studies and theatre arts who’ll pursue a career in costume design after Drew. Benson earned the Emerging Scholar Prize for a performance art piece on environmental degradation called We Must Diverge.

“The unifying concept behind my multidimensional research into performance art and environmental degradation is to inspire change on a personal level and create awareness on a systemic level to change our current society, which hurts both women and the earth in a mutually reinforcing process,” said Benson. “How can women understand their true selves in a world that pushes them toward natural work that is highly subjugated and abused?”

Among the other presenters at the statewide event was Nia Dove, a December 2018 graduate who majored in English. Dove’s paper explored how writer Paule Marshall represented black women in the novels Brown Girl, Brownstones and Praisesong for the Widow. In particular, she examined how society perceived the women compared to how they perceived themselves. The colloquium took place at Stockton University in Atlantic City, N.J.

Last year, Drew’s Alexa Young C’18 shared first prize for a paper titled, “Mom’s the Word: Counter-narrative Constructions of Single Motherhood in 1970s-1980s Popular American Literature.” In the past six years, Drew students have earned eight awards at the colloquium: four first prizes, three honorable mentions and one emerging scholar. Here’s who won what.

Drew prize winners at the colloquium


First Prize – Shaylyn MacKinnon

Emerging Scholar Prize – Hailey Benson


First Prize – Alexa Young (one of two winners)


Honorable Mention Prize – Malek Elsayyid


First Prize – Marianna D’Aries (one of three winners)


First Prize – Eve Sanoussi

Honorable Mention – Mariel Caputo


Honorable Mention – Victoria Russell

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