Ben Auburn Award in Cultural Criticism

The Ben Auburn Award in Cultural Criticism seeks to stimulate the production and recognition of works of cultural criticism by students at The University of Akron through an annual awards competition and symposium administered by the Williams Honors College. In addition, there will be a second category “Community in a Time of Pandemic,” recognizing the unique circumstances that have surrounded our society over the previous year. The first prize in each category will be $500.

The 2021 Symposium will be held virtually, on Friday, April 30, 2021, and awards will be made provided sufficient entries are received in each category.

Cultural criticism does not vilify our society. Rather, as culture adapts and changes, criticism identifies and assesses trends in the arts, aesthetics, and ideas of a human society. The critique is limited neither to high culture nor to popular movements, it can be applied across all human artistic and intellectual achievements. Moreover, cultural criticism can take many forms and appear in a variety of media. A series of related reviews, an extended essay or article, a monograph, or a chapter in a book are some written forms; video, audio, or filmed programs may constitute cultural criticism, as may exhibitions or performances, and works of imaginative textual (poems, fiction), pictorial, sculptural, and performance art designed primarily to reflect other works of the imagination.

Your community is not simply where you live, but includes with whom you live and interact with regularly. The special topic for this year’s Ben Auburn Award in Cultural Criticism is “Community in a Time of Pandemic” and explores the experience of different communities during the past year. For example, how has the experience been different for different communities, and why? How do different communities view one another and do they recognize the similarities and differences between communities? Have barriers between communities been broken down; have new barriers formed?

The Ben Auburn Award, established by Mark, Sandy, and David Auburn in memory of their son and brother Ben, seeks to expand the boundaries of cultural criticism, the capacity of our students to participate in its creation, and the opportunities to grapple with ideas expressed in any form. It will recognize thoughtful analysis and commentary, reflective and careful judgment, and sustained acquisition of knowledge and taste. It will reward original thinking and expression. It will encourage intellectual risk-taking subjected to public assessment.

For more information please contact Prof. D. Dane Quinn, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Research, Williams Honors College, at, or at 330–972–6302.


Download a flyer and submission form for the Ben Auburn Award.

The Ben Auburn Award competition is open to all undergraduate students at The University of Akron. Up to five participants will be invited to take part in the virtual public symposium on April 30, 2021. The first prize for the Ben Auburn Award is $500.
Productions of cultural criticism must be submitted by
Friday, April 23, 2021
5:00 p.m.
to receive full consideration by the Awards Committee. The production and the accompanying form should be submitted by email to Sandy Vasenda (

Oberlin College Connection

Ben Auburn graduated from Oberlin College (1994), although his parents and his grandfather Korman graduated from The University of Akron, while his parents and grandparents Auburn served UA. Participation by students of Oberlin College in this Award and its activities is encouraged but not required, and Oberlin College students may receive awards in the form of tuition credits at The University of Akron.

Background Information

Benjamin Max Joseph Auburn (1972–2000) is the son of Mark S. and Sandy K. Auburn, brother of David Auburn, and grandson of Norman P. and Kathleen M. Auburn and George and Pearl Korman. Ben Auburn was a writer, a producer, and a performer. He wrote extensively on popular music and on the rise of Internet communication for print and electronic media (using the review essay or evaluative article mode); but he also designed and conducted audio programs of popular music (performance in the medium of radio and electronic recording) whose purpose was to illustrate trends in the popular music of his day. He performed as an ensemble improvisational comic actor, and his company’s work implicitly assessed trends in the arts, ideas, and aesthetics of his time. His blog tracked some of his thinking (and hence a blog conducted over an extended period may be entered into this competition).