Disobedience Award 2017: winners and finalists

David Silverman Photography

by Stacie Slotnick

July 20, 2017

Disobedience Award Winners: Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards

Why they were selected
Both Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Professor Marc Edwards 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.

Mona Hanna-Attisha MD MPH FAAP is director of the Hurley Medical Center’s Pediatric Residency Program in Flint, Michigan. A Michigan native, Dr. Hanna-Attisha fell in love with pediatrics while on the Flint campus during her clinical years as a medical student at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. After completing her residency and chief residency at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, she earned a master’s degree in public health, concentrating in health management and policy, at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Dr. Hanna-Attisha was an assistant professor at Wayne State University Department of Pediatrics and an associate director of the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Pediatric Residency Program prior to returning to Hurley. In addition to educating the next generation of physicians, Dr. Hanna-Attisha now directs the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Public Health Initiative, an innovative and model public health program to research, monitor and mitigate the impact of lead in Flint’s drinking water.

Marc Edwards is currently the Charles Lunsford Professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, where he teaches courses in environmental engineering and applied aquatic chemistry. In 2004, Time magazine named him as one of the four most important innovators in water worldwide. His 2010 paper on lead poisoning of children in Washington DC, due to elevated lead in drinking water, was judged the outstanding science paper in Environmental Science and Technology. Undergraduate and graduate students advised by Edwards have won 23 nationally recognized awards for their research work on corrosion and water treatment. His honors include the White House's Presidential Faculty Fellowship (1996); Outstanding Paper Award, Journal of American Waterworks Association (1994, 1995, 2005, 2011); the H.P. Eddy Medal for best research publication by the Water Pollution Control Federation (currently Water Environment Federation, 1990); the Walter Huber Research Prize from the American Society of Civil Engineers (2003); State of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award (2006); a MacArthur Fellowship (2008-2012); the Praxis Award in Professional Ethics from Villanova University (2010); and the IEEE Barus Award for Defending the Public Interest (2012). He received his bachelor’s degree in bio-physics from SUNY Buffalo and an MS/PhD in environmental engineering from the University of Washington. His master's thesis and PhD dissertation both won national awards from the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, and the Water Environment Federation.

Disobedience Award Finalist: Freedom University Georgia

Why they were selected
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.

Freedom University Georgia  provides rigorous college preparation classes, college and scholarship application assistance, and leadership development for undocumented students in Georgia. Founded in 2011 by a coalition of undocumented students, immigrant rights activists, and four professors at the University of Georgia. Freedom University opened its doors following the passage of Georgia Board of Regents Policy 4.1.6, which bans undocumented youth from attending Georgia's top public universities, and Policy 4.3.4, which bans undocumented students from in-state tuition. In its early years, the curriculum at Freedom University involved a humanities-based course on Sunday afternoons in a community center in Athens. Today, Freedom University's curriculum involves four, 75-minute classes in human rights, language arts, biological sciences, college preparation and SAT tutoring, as well as skills-based training in social movement leadership and self-care. Freedom University also provides students with access to free mental health services in its network of pro-bono mental health professionals, and monthly "Know Your Rights" trainings to protect students and their families in interactions with law enforcement or immigration agents. Georgia is the only state in the country to ban students both from select universities and from in-state tuition. These policies effectively target and exclude undocumented students.

Betina Kaplan earned her PhD in Spanish literature and culture from Columbia University after graduating from Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is an associate professor of Spanish at The University of Georgia where she teaches courses on Latin American literature, film, and culture. Her research focuses on cultural productions, gender, violence, and memory of the recent past in Latin American Southern Cone. Her first book, Gender and Violence in Contemporary Narratives from the Southern Cone was published by Tamesis in 2008 (in Spanish). She is currently preparing a book on the representation in literature, film, and photography of victims of State Terror (“desparecidos”) during the 70-80s dictatorships in the Southern Cone. Through Service Learning courses she developed several projects, including a Spanish adult literacy program for Spanish speaking immigrants, which linked the University with the local Latin@ community and organizations. In 2011, when laws and regulations in Georgia profoundly restricted immigrants’ access to higher education, and undocumented college and high-school students started putting themselves at risk of deportation in acts of disobedience, she became one of the founding members of Freedom University. She was actively involved with FU through July 2014. In August, 2014 she co-founded U-Lead Athens, and is currently one of its co-directors. Both Freedom University and U-Lead Athens strive for equal access to higher education regardless of immigration status.

Lorgia García Peña is a Latino/a studies scholar who studies ethnicity, race, and national belonging. Her main areas of interest include Dominican history, literatures, and cultures, Caribbean diaspora studies, immigration, diasporas, contemporary politics, and performance studies. She works with written, oral, and visual texts from the 19th century to the present. She is a graduate of the American Culture Program at the University of Michigan, and of the Rutgers University Spanish and Portuguese department. She is assistant professor of romance languages and literatures and of history and literatures at Harvard University, and a member of Harvard’s Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights, Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and of the graduate program in American Studies. She is also one of the founders of Freedom University Georgia.


Disobedience Award Finalist: Dr. James Hansen

Why he was selected
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 selection committee decided it was important to honor his many contributions.

James Hansen, formerly Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, where he directs a program in Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions. He was trained in physics and astronomy in the space science program of Dr. James Van Allen at the University of Iowa. His early research on the clouds of Venus helped identify their composition as sulfuric acid. Since the late 1970s, Hansen has focused his research on Earth's climate, especially human-made climate change. Hansen is best known for his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in the 1980s that helped raise broad awareness of the global warming issue. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995 and was designated by Time magazine in 2006 as one of the 100 most influential people on Earth. He has received numerous awards including the Carl-Gustaf Rossby and Roger Revelle Research Medals, the Sophie Prize, and the Blue Planet Prize. Hansen is recognized for speaking truth to power, for identifying ineffectual policies as greenwash, and for outlining actions that the public must take to protect the future of young people and other life on our planet.

Disobedience Award Finalist: Standing Rock Water Protectors

Why they were selected
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.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard is the former Director of Tribal Tourism for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; from the Dakota and Lakota Nation of the bands of Ihunktonwana (Upper Yanktonais) Pabaska (Cuthead), and Sisseton on her father’s side; Hunkpapa, Sihasapa (Blackfeet), and Oglala on her mother’s side of the family.

She earned her BS in history/Indian studies at the University of North Dakota (UND), and attended UND Graduate School for historical research until 1992. She began working for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in cultural preservation planning as the Cultural Preservation Planner in 1993, developed the Tribal Historic Preservation Office for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in 1996, and worked in historic preservation for five years before transferring to the tourism field in 2003 with the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Event.

She served as a Tribal Advisor for Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Events, and has worked with Sitting Bull College on the development of the National Native American Scenic Byway, compiling the historical research for the site on Standing Rock. In 2005, Standing Rock became a National Native American Scenic Byway. She developed the Tatanka Ohitika Historic Tour throughout Standing Rock, which includes historic signage along the National Byway (which extends across Standing Rock 2.3 million acres); site development along the Byway includes Sitting Bull Grave sites and the Sitting Bull Visitor Center, which opened in May, 2013.

She has worked with ATTA-Alliance of Tribal Tourism as past and current vice-president and marketing manager; as an at-large member of the board for American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA); and president of North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance (NDNTA).

Since 1993 she has been compiling the history—including battlefields and sacred and ceremonial places—of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and has also compiled research on the history of the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota people, including the creation of a database of the genealogy of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe which also includes other area tribes. She serves as a history consultant for Little Big Horn, Killdeer Mountain, and the Tribal Historic Preservation offices. She has worked as a researcher on books including Crazy Horse by Kingsley Bray and Inkpaduta by Paul Beck.

Phyllis Young is no stranger to historic gatherings. The sister of the late Oglala Lakota patriot Russell Means, she comes from Standing Rock, home of Chief Sitting Bull’s people, the Hunkpapa Sioux. Says Young, “I have had the distinct honor and privilege to be at the heart of two of the largest American Indian gatherings to date: the 1974 Wakpala Standing Rock gathering where 97 Indian Nations convened.” The second is the recent “NoDapl” peaceful resistance at Standing Rock. Young served as a spokesperson for the movement, appearing on international media throughout the 10-month standoff against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The $3.8 billion pipeline construction desecrated sacred sites including ancestral graves, and threatens her tribe’s land and water. The resistance drew more than 10,000 supporters from around the world. Under Presidential Order, the Army Corps of Engineers shut down their encampment on February 24, 2017.

Phyllis cut her activist teeth at the UN. In 1975, she established the first International Indian Treaty Council Office at the UN Plaza. In 1977, she secured the Council’s credentials as an NGO with Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council, making it the first indigenous NGO. That same year, Young led the coordination of the First International NGO Conference in Geneva, Switzerland; more than 100 indigenous delegates attended, with an additional 150 in attendance as observers and guests. Thirty-three years later, Young was one of the authors of the precursor document that became the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. In 2007, the declaration was adopted by the General Assembly by a majority of 144 states in favor. Only four votes were cast against it: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, four countries boasting high indigenous populations.