BY Ama Nunoo, 9:00am November 24, 2020,

10 Black students named Rhodes scholars, equaling record for most ever in a single class

Oxford University offers Rhodes Scholarships to 32 Americans this year of which 10 are Blacks. Photo: Oxford University

The selection process for the 2021 Rhodes scholarships was done virtually for the first time this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thirty-two students from across the United States were selected. Out of this figure, 10 were Black people, matching the 2018 record for the highest Black awardees in a single year.

This year’s winners were chosen from 2,300 applicants, of which 953 were endorsed by 288 different colleges and universities to study at Oxford University in England, AP reported.

“Twenty-two of the 32 are students of color; ten are Black, equal to the greatest number ever elected in one year in the United States. Nine are first-generation Americans or immigrants; and one is a Dreamer with active DACA status. Seventeen of the winners are women, 14 are men, and one is non-binary,” Elliot F. Gerson, the American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, said in a news release Sunday.

Each year, The Rhodes Trust announces winners from the United States the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and it is one of the most prestigious awards for American college graduates to pursue higher education at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

The Rhodes Scholarships were instituted in 1902 by the Will of Cecil Rhodes. The awards are provided in partnership with The Atlantic Philanthropies, Second Century Founder, and other sponsors.

The first group of American scholars admitted into Oxford under Rhodes was in 1904, and this year’s scholars will join the school in October 2021 together with other recipients from over 60 countries.

The selection process has two major stages. The first is the endorsement of the applicant by their home college or university. For the second stage, selection committees in 16 U.S. districts interview those judged to be the strongest candidates. “The selection criteria fall into four broad categories: academic excellence; the energy to use one’s talents to the fullest; attributes such as truth, courage, kindness, and devotion to duty; and the moral force of character and instincts to lead,” according to Forbes.

For the first time, the Southern Connecticut State University and the University of California, Santa Cruz were featured on the award list with a student each being part of the 2021 scholars.

Harvard University topped the US Rhodes list with six students, Yale had three, and Duke University and The US Military Academy both had two students.

There have been 3,548 American awardees since the inception of the awards including this year’s recipients coming from over 300 different universities and colleges across the nation. The 2021 class has been deemed as the most diverse with enormous talent.

According to Gerson, “this year’s American Rhodes Scholars—independently elected by 16 committees around the country meeting simultaneously—reflect the remarkable diversity that characterizes and strengthens the United States.

“These young Americans will go to Oxford next October to study in fields broadly across the social, biological, and physical sciences, the humanities, and public policy. They are leaders already, and we are confident that their contributions to public welfare globally will expand exponentially over the course of their careers.”

Shera Avi-Yonah, a 22-year-old Harvard University student, is one of the Black scholars and she has already made significant contributions to society from her reporter’s desk at the Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper.

She has spearheaded several lawsuits which have aroused her interest in press freedom and its limitations. She intends to study history at Oxford, comparing the libel laws of the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

The young scholar wants to be a journalist now more than ever because “it’s a moment where journalism is both in crisis financially and there are outside attacks, but it’s also more vital than ever to our democracy.”

Avi-Yona got the news of her scholarship at her parent’s home in Lincoln, Massachusetts on Saturday night. An elated Avi-Yona ran to tell her folks about the news.  

“A wave of gratitude washed over me”, she said. “I’m going to have a very happy Thanksgiving.”

An average of $70,000 per year is given in Rhodes scholarships which covers all expenses for about two to three years, in some instances, four years of graduate study.

The award recipients are not confined to the courses they can pursue. They are free to study the full range of disciplines offered at Oxford.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 24, 2020


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