David Olin, UC Berkeley senior and political economy major, won the 2019 Prize in Ethics Essay Contest for his essay “The View from My Window: The Ethics of Using Violence to Fight Fascism.”
The annual competition, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, was established by Boston University professor Elie Wiesel and his wife, Marion Wiesel, through the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and is co-hosted by corporate partner Legal Research Network, according to a press release.
Olin originally submitted his essay in December 2018, but learned in August that he had won first prize. This past week, Olin and other winners were flown to New York for an ethics seminar, where they met Marion Wiesel.
“It’s such a tremendous honor, especially because Elie Wiesel is such an incredible writer, and reading ‘Night’ had a huge impact on what I thought about the written language,” Olin said. “I know that his works and how he discussed his life experience was really fundamental to getting a lot of people to consider what human beings are capable of, both in the best and worst senses.”
In his essay, Olin discussed the successive 2017 Berkeley city protests in which clashes and marches occurred between “alt-right” ralliers and counterprotesters. He highlighted the violent protest on UC Berkeley’s campus that led to the cancellation of conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ campus appearance in February 2017 and protests that followed.
As the protests continued into his sophomore year, Olin personally witnessed a rally by the far-right group Patriot Prayer in late August 2017.
“That was the moment when I was literally and figuratively closest to everything that was going on,” Olin said.
Olin said his essay ultimately argues that violence is not ethically justified, though it is “a complex picture.”
He hopes that more students continue to write about important ethical questions and that more apply for this contest.
“I think the most important ethical question that I ask and that everyone has to ask is ‘personally, what should you do to contribute positively to the world?’ And I think that’s a difficult question because people have to try to balance and maintain their lives and meet their everyday interests, while still wondering what they can do as an individual to be ethical,” Olin said.