Disability Studies Graduate Alexis Wilner ’24 Wins Orlin Prize for Outstanding Honors Thesis

Alexis Wilner ’24 was awarded the David Orlin Prize for Overall Outstanding Thesis Project, as well as best professional studies thesis, at the 2024 Renée Crown University Honors Program Convocation on May 10. Wilner is a graduate of Syracuse University’s College of Visual Arts and Performing Arts’ drama program and the School of Education’s (SOE) Disability Studies minor program.

Alexis Wilner holding her Orlin Prize medalAdvised by Professor Christy Ashby, Director of SOE’s Center on Disability and Inclusion, Wilner’s thesis explores issues in contemporary American theater that prevent true inclusivity of disabled theater artists.

“By understanding the reasons for a lack of legal repercussions, support from unions, and training available, I reveal the consequences of a lack of accessibility in our industry,” Wilner explains. “Based on digital scholarship and personal interviews, I suggest a variety of ways in which companies and organizations can make their practices more inclusive.”

Wilner’s thesis provides examples of accommodations and initiatives to support all disabled theater artists. She also presents three case studies on exemplary productions and organizations that have curated authentic inclusion for their disabled production artists.

“Alexis’ work is truly exceptional and in line with the University’s commitment to accessibility, inclusion, and human thriving,” says Ashby. “All people deserve access to theater, be that as an audience member or through careers in all aspects of stage craft. It was an honor to work with Alexis on this project, and I can’t wait to see where she takes this work next.”

During her four years at Syracuse University, Wilner translated theory into practice by serving as a student representative for the University-wide Disability, Access, and Inclusion Council (DAIC), by consulting with Syracuse Stage on accessibility, and by organizing an inclusive theater collaborative cabaret and gallery night through DAIC’s Access Arts SU project in 2022.

“I am immensely grateful to win the Orlin Prize. Receiving a commendation from the Honors Program has been absolutely surreal,” Wilner says. “I have been interested in publishing my research in industry journals since the beginning of this process and am excited to finally pursue doing so with this award.”

Professor Danielle Taana Smith, Director of the Crown Honors Program, notes that the honors prize committee—made up of University faculty—choose best theses across five categories: creative, humanities, social sciences, science and engineering, and professional. These recipients receive an award of $1,000. The Orlin Prize winner for the “best of the best” thesis receives an additional $2,000.

“The Honors Thesis Project is an outstanding example of research and scholarship,” says Smith. “The threshold for receiving a prize is extraordinarily high, and the selection is always difficult.”