2017 Disobedience Award

David Silverman Photography

The two winners we selected for this year’s Disobedience Award are people whose work reflects the hopes that led to the prize in the first place: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Professor Marc Edwards. Both are scientists who became activists, using rigorous research to investigate the concerns of citizens in Flint, Michigan to unravel a mystery that many in positions of power would have preferred to keep under wraps. Both faced harassment and ridicule for their work and risked academic sanctions for defying conventions of peer review as they sought to bring attention to Flint's water crisis before more people were affected. Their work shows that science and scholarship are as powerful tools for social change as art and protest, and it challenges those of us in academia to use our powers for good.

At the start of the selection process, we didn’t intend to offer honorable mentions, but the strength of our candidates compelled us to distinguish several. Reid generously offered to fund an additional $10,000 for each of the following: Professor James Hansen, the Water Protectors of Standing Rock, and the founders of Freedom University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jim Hansen is widely recognized as a pioneer of climate change research. At NASA, he faced substantial pushback as he made bold, data-backed predictions in climate science. His work from within a powerful institution defended what is right in defiance of pressure. For this, the committee decided it was important to honor his many contributions.

The Water Protectors of Standing Rock brought together the largest gathering of Native Tribes in more than a century to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Members of the movement like LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Phyllis Young, Jasilyn Charger, and Joseph White Eyes held a prayer vigil in defiance, drawing an historic gathering of tribes, allies, and people from all walks of life standing in solidarity.

Freedom University Georgia, which offers free classes on Sundays, was founded by Professors Betina Kaplan, Lorgia García Peña, Pamela Voekel, and Bethany Moreton at the University of Georgia. They were outraged that undocumented students had to pay out-of-state tuition to attend state schools. Students in the program have gone on to universities in other states where laws are more flexible and just.

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