POETRY CONTEST: Announcing winners from this year’s Vanderbilt Unity Project poetry contest

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Vanderbilt students were invited this spring to express how they feel about unity and democracy through a new poetry contest held by the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy in partnership with the Department of English and Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing program. The theme was "what unity through American democracy means to me."  

Zhi-Ying Chua, a junior double majoring in Political Science and Economics, won first place for her poem, "International House." Farrah Hasan, a senior majoring in Chemistry and Creative Writing with a minor in Sustainability Studies, won second place for her submission, "Post-Hijab Memoir." The third place prize went to Zhixian (Alex) Li, a junior majoring in Applied Mathematics, Economics and Creative Writing, for his composition, "Island."  

Each poem touched on the importance of caring for one another in society, the complexities of being Muslim in America and the perils of standing up for democracy. The poems are available to read on the Unity Project website:  

"International House" by Zhi-Ying Chua

"Post-Hijab Memoir" by Farrah Hasan

"Island" by Zhixian (Alex) Li

Undergraduate and graduate students had until April 4 to submit a poem, in any style, to the contest. Poem submissions centered around the Unity Project's seven pillars, including: 

  • Polarization: Its Past, Present and Future
  • Hours of Hope: Case Studies in American Progress
  • Race in America: Toward a Nation of Equality
  • Under God: The Role of Religion in a Divided Time
  • To Keep the Republic: Strengthening Democratic Principles at Home and Abroad
  • Information Marketplace: Ensuring the Public Has the Data
  • Cultural Bridges: Using Artistic Expression to Narrow the Divide 

The top three winners received cash prizes and the top choice will be featured by the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority.  


The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy is a nonpartisan initiative that aims to elevate research and evidence-based reasoning into the national conversation. Drawing on original research, evidence-based papers and crucial conversations from Vanderbilt's world-class faculty and visionary thought leaders of all political persuasions, the timely endeavor aims to give policymakers and the public the tools needed to combat conspiracy and unfounded ideology with evidence,dataand respectful discourse. The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy can make a meaningful contribution to solving society's most pressing challenges and bridging our deepest differences. 

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