Beth Lew-Williams Honored with Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award

Written by
Jennifer Altmann for the Office of Communications
June 3, 2024

The Princeton University chapter of Phi Beta Kappa will present its annual awards for excellence in undergraduate teaching to Eileen Reeves, professor of comparative literature, emerita, and Beth Lew-Williams, professor of history.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony on Monday, May 27.

The students outline the criteria for excellence in teaching as skill in instruction, commitment to working with and building relationships with undergraduates, and the ability to spark students’ intellectual interests. Each winner is presented with a plaque.

Beth Lew-Williams

An expert on Asian American history and a historian of race and migration, Lew-Williams is cherished by students for her “commitment to rigorous inquiry, intellectual humility and compassion,” said senior Christine Hu.

Subjects that arise in her courses require special sensitivity, as many of them are personal for students. “I think I speak for many when I say that the opportunity to learn about this history has been a healing, empowering and intellectually engaging experience,” Hu said.

When taking on topics that deal with violence and trauma, she always takes a deep interest in students’ opinions. “It is healing to understand the historical roots of the perpetual feelings of ‘otherness’ I experienced growing up,” Hu said. “I also feel empowered to advocate for change after learning about a history of Asian American activism previously unknown to me.”

A signature of many of Lew-Williams’ courses is the oral history component. Each year, several dozen students conduct interviews to compile these original histories. “She pushes her students as scholars, and encourages them to listen closely and compassionately to others,” Hu said. “It is amazing that every time this course is taught, nearly 100 new oral histories are generated.”

Lew-Williams joined the Princeton faculty in 2014. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Brown University and her Ph.D. from Stanford.