2016 Shansi Prize Winners: Emma Leiken and Richard Tran


The 2016 winners of the Shansi Prize are Emma Leiken for her captivating and thoroughly researched Religion Capstone, “The New Epoch-Builder: Buddhist Identities and the Reclamation of Personhood in the Ambedkar Conversion Movement,” and Richard Tran for his multi-dimensional and remarkable Honors Studio Thesis Exhibition, “I Will Not Be Buried.”

Emma Leiken’s Capstone nominated by Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Laurie McMillin eloquently captures the dynamic social transformation of a social group from “Untouchable” to “Buddhist.” Emma’s inspiration and motivation to study the intersection between caste and Buddhism began in Professor Paula Richman’s class on Modern India. During her junior year, she received a Dalai Lama Fellowship and spent her summer working in Chiplun Maharashtra, India, where she helped launched the Chiplun Youth Arts Initiatives (CYAI) connecting local artists to schools.

With this Capstone, she reflects:

"It is my hope that my capstone thesis on Ambedkarite Buddhism is not just significant or impactful in academia, but more so, that it highlights and exposes the current inequities that still take place in Maharashtra because of caste. I hope it highlights the profound resistance in the Dalit movement—and demonstrates to academics and non-academics alike the profound impact that a name change (from “Untouchable” to “Dalit” to “Buddhist”) and a change in religion can have. This capstone has also given my religion major a deeper sense of meaning because it addresses applied religion or rather Engaged Buddhism—it illustrates how religion—in this case, Buddhism—can be responsive to the wordily and practical needs of a community."

Emma will continue to pursue her interest in Ambedkar Buddhism during her Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship in India next year.

Richard Tran’s creative concept for his Honors Studio Thesis Exhibition spanned over 20 years in the making. His art exhibition, nominated by Professor of Studio Art Nanette Yannuzzi-Macias, is a personal examination of the pain and trauma experienced by his community during the Vietnam War. His multi-faceted and diverse artworks explore the challenging theme of war trauma and create a place for forgotten voices to be heard through the usage of photographs, sculptures, and miscellaneous objects. In addition to his creative pursuits, Richard has studied and worked in Vietnam multiple times during his undergraduate career at Oberlin to further extend his knowledge of Vietnam’s culture and history.

On the process for his moving Senior Exhibition, Richard describes:

"I begin my work with a confession to myself and draw inspiration from crucial moments in history. My intent is to honor the forgotten, expose corruption, create a voice for the unheard, and set a pathway for narratives that are, more often than not, silenced. I do this not only for the othered, but in order to validate and authenticate my own being."

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