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Harvard Radcliffe Institute Awards 2024 Fay Prizes for Outstanding Theses

2024 Fay Prize winners
The 2024 Fay Prize winners with Harvard Radcliffe Institute Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin. From left to right, Dhruv Goel, Charlotte Skye Baker, and Justin Hu. Photo by Kevin Grady/Harvard Radcliffe Institute

Topics include an in-depth exploration of the human complexities of getting bailed out of jail, a unified treatment of an essential mathematical theorem, and a close study of how one school in Martinique contributed to the island’s anticolonial, literary, and cultural heritage.

CAMBRIDGE, MA (May 16, 2024)—Harvard Radcliffe Institute today honored Charlotte Skye Baker, Dhruv Goel, and Justin Hu with the prestigious Captain Jonathan Fay Prize, the annual award for the top theses of Harvard College’s graduating class.

This year’s Fay Prize recipients are recognized for their exceptional undergraduate work in the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities, respectively. Their work was selected from among that of 73 Harvard College seniors, each of whom received the Thomas Temple Hoopes Prize in recognition of outstanding scholarly research from undergraduate students. The Hoopes Prize is funded by the estate of Thomas T. Hoopes, Class of 1919, for the purpose of “promoting, improving, and enhancing the quality of education.”

The Fay Prize was established in 1907 by Joseph Storey Fay in memory of his great-grandfather, Captain Jonathan Fay (1724–1800), to be awarded to a graduating Radcliffe College student most deserving due to academic and personal merit.

First bestowed in 1909 to Evelyn Spring, the prize was administered by Radcliffe College for 90 years. Harvard Radcliffe Institute has continued the tradition since 2001, expanding the candidate pool to all Harvard graduating seniors and honoring “the most outstanding imaginative work or piece of original research in any field.”

The honor reflects the mission of the Institute to foster advanced work across a wide range of disciplines.

“We carry this history with us, and we’re proud of it,” said Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute. “The legacy of Radcliffe College, as we often say, isn’t merely coeducation at Harvard. It’s the recognition that universities will always be greater when they draw wisdom and talent from the widest possible pool of individuals.”

Charlotte Skye Baker, “Judges, Loved Ones, and Bondsmen: An Ethnography of Cash Bail in a Southern US City”

While most existing academic work on the judiciary’s cash bail system focuses on judicial decision-making alone, Baker’s thesis examines the human side of the process, which she spent two months researching through deep fieldwork.

One of her findings is that defendants are “subject to a complex system of enhanced social control wielded not only by judges but also by loved ones and bondsmen.”

Baker writes: “Indigent defendants…ability to get out of jail is dictated not by legally prescribed bail factors (their likelihood of returning to court, or the risk they pose to public safety) but by their courtroom behavior, their mother’s opinion of them, or their accent.”

“Throughout, you enhance our understanding of the cash bail process through the actors (not only judges, but family members and bondsmen) and processes (not only bond amounts, but a complex set of decisions by these actors),” one of her readers wrote in his comments to Baker. “At times, this felt much like I was reading an excerpt of an academic book on cash bail in an outlet like the New Yorker. I hope you are considering a career post-graduation that will have you write in some capacity.”

Another reader wrote: “Baker’s rich anecdotal account also shows what happens to communities plagued by the twin crises of mass incarceration and a hollowed-out social safety net, in which defendants have had … to rely on their mothers, grandmothers, and lovers to bail them, all of whom themselves have very limited resources.”

Baker is planning to turn her thesis into a full-length book project via a postgraduate fellowship, according to her faculty advisor.

Dhruv Goel, “The Joys of the Atiyah-Singer Index Theorem”

Goel’s thesis nominator called his thesis “a beautiful piece of work—one of the top five or six senior honors theses I’ve seen in 35 years at Harvard.”

He wrote that the Atiyah-Singer Index Theorem “occupies a central position in the mathematics of the 20th century; it has roots in the subjects of algebraic geometry, differential geometry, topology, analysis and partial differential equations, knitting together key ideas and constructions from each of these fields. But its very centrality has made it a difficult subject to learn and to teach…. To give a single, unified treatment of the theorem and all its appearances is truly a daunting task. What Goel has undertaken to do in his thesis is just that: he presents a comprehensive treatment of the theorem, developing a coherent logical framework in which the various manifestations and applications of the theorem can all be described.”

“It is virtually unique in the literature; it's what I would give to a graduate student who was setting out to understand the theorem,” he wrote.

Justin Hu, “Studying with Césaire: Caribbean Counter-Pedagogies of the Lycée Victor Schoelcher during the Third Republic, 1870–1945”

Called “an extraordinarily ambitious work of cultural history and literary analysis,” by one of his two nominators, Hu’s thesis focuses on Aimé Césaire, a foundational figure of Caribbean anticolonialism, and traces his revolutionary thought and literary work—which went on to influence Frantz Fanon, Léon-Gontran Damas and Édouard Glissant—back to the Lycée Victor Schoelcher, a school created by French colonizers to shape students into good French citizens that instead became a primary site for anti-Republican, dissident action and thought.

Hu carried out a huge amount of research for his study, including stints of archival work in Martinique and mainland France.

“Although his work is complex and nuanced, hard to convey in a couple of sentences, in my view its most important aspect is the attempt to reinterpret the thrust of these authors’ theories of decolonization as pertaining to specific characteristics of their intellectual milieu in the Caribbean,” wrote one of his nominators. “I think Justin Hu’s thesis is an important contribution to a variety of subjects associated with the Black experience in the Atlantic world.”

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