Ten African Americans Selected as Rhodes Scholars

Recently, the Rhodes Trust announced the 32 American winners of Rhodes Scholarships for graduate study at Oxford University in England. Being named a Rhodes Scholar is considered among the highest honors that can be won by a U.S. college student.

The scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, an industrialist who made a vast fortune in colonial Africa. According to the will of Rhodes, applicants must have “high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor.”

This year, more than 2,500 students applied to be Rhodes Scholars. More than 866 students were endorsed by 299 college or university for consideration for a Rhodes Scholarship. Some 228 applicants from 100 different college and universities were named finalists. Then, two Rhodes Scholars were selected from each of 16 districts across the United States. Students may apply from either the district where they reside or the district where they attend college. The 32 American Rhodes Scholars will join students from 20 other jurisdictions around the world as Rhodes Scholars. The Rhodes Trust pays all tuition and fees for scholarship winners to study at Oxford. A stipend for living and travel expenses is also provided.

In 1907 Alain LeRoy Locke, later a major philosopher and literary figure of the Harlem Renaissance, was selected as a Rhodes Scholar to study at Oxford University. It is generally believed that at the time of the award the Rhodes committee did not know that Locke was Black until after he had been chosen. It would be more than 50 years later, in 1962, until another African American would be named a Rhodes Scholar. Other African Americans who have won Rhodes Scholarships include Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law School, Kurt Schmoke, former mayor of Baltimore, and Franklin D. Raines, former director of the Office of Management and Budget and former CEO of Fannie Mae. In 1978 Karen Stevenson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the first African-American woman selected as a Rhodes Scholar.

In the past, the Rhodes Trust did not disclose the race or ethnicity of the scholars selected. But this year the Rhodes Trust stated in its press release that there were “10 African-Americans, the most ever elected in a U.S. Rhodes class.”

Peggy Terry has assembled brief biographies of the 10 new African Americans Rhodes Scholars. JBHE thanks her for the contribution.

Simone M. Askew is a senior at the United States Military Academy where she is majoring in international history. Askew holds the top leadership position at West Point, the Brigade Commander of the United States Corps of Cadets. She is the first African American female in the 215-year history of West Point to hold this post. Lauded for her leadership abilities, she received the Pinnacle Award from the Black Women’s Agenda in Washington, D.C.  At Oxford, she will study for a master’s degree in evidence-based social intervention.

Camille A. Borders is majoring in history as a Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. Her senior thesis focuses on how African-American women emerging from slavery understood and practiced their sexual lives and how slavery affected relationships. Borders was active in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Borders is a member of Washington University Slam Poetry. At Oxford, Borders will pursue a master’s degree in social and economic history.

Jasmine Brown is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, where she majors in biology, with a concentration in neuroscience. She has also done cancer research at the Broad Institute, pulmonary research at Johns Hopkins, and studied behavioral science at the University of Miami. At Washington University she continues extensive research to identify protective genes against cognitive defects following West Nile induced encephalitis. Brown founded the Minority Association of Rising Scientists and serves as its president. Brown will study for a doctorate in physiology, anatomy and genetics at Oxford.

Tania N. Fabo is a senior at Harvard College where she concentrates in human development and regenerative biology. A native of Germany, Fabo is the daughter of Cameroonian parents. She has done cancer research throughout her college career. Fabo has created and co-directed the first annual Black Health Matters Conference at Harvard, is president of the Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers, and is active in singing groups. Fabo will study for a master’s degree in oncology at Oxford.

JaVaughn T. Flowers is a 2017 graduate of Yale University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. A Truman Scholar, Flowers’ thesis examined policy gaps in Portland’s sanctuary city policy for undocumented immigrants. Flowers played varsity basketball at Yale. A first-generation college graduate, Flowers helped to design and implement major changes to Yale’s financial aid system. After graduation, he returned to his hometown of Portland, Oregon, to work in Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s field office. At Oxford, Flowers will study comparative social policy.

Hazim Hardeman graduated magna cum laude from Temple University in May with a concentration in strategic communication. He is Temple’s first Rhodes Scholar. Hardeman grew up in Philadelphia four blocks from Temple. His single mother found a way to enroll him in a better elementary school two hours away by public transportation but he had to return to his inner-city high school. From there he attended the Community College of Philadelphia, where he graduated with high honors. His research interests include critical pedagogy, race and politics, and African-American intellectual history. He is a substitute teacher in the Philadelphia School District and was a fellow in the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment. Hardeman intends to earn a master’s degree in higher education at Oxford.

Chelsea A. Jackson is a senior at Emory University in Atlanta, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science and African-American studies and a master’s degree in political science. She is a Truman Scholar. Jackson’s research explores how civil rights activists and government officials deployed the criminal justice system to achieve diametrically opposed goals. Her master’s thesis will focus on prosecutorial discretion and race. At Oxford, Jackson will seek a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice.

Thamara V. Jean, is a senior at the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is Hunter’s first Rhodes Scholar. Jean majors in political science and media analysis and criticism. She completed her senior thesis in her junior year on the Black Lives Matter movement which was subsequently published in The Journal of Politics and Society. Jean is especially interested in the dialectic between Afro-pessimism and Black optimism and how that shapes African-American political thought. Jean has worked at Democracy Works and Generation Citizen, and was a producer at the CUNY Film Festival. Jean will pursue a master’s degree in political theory at Oxford.

Naomi T. Mburu, is a senior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she studies chemical engineering. She is the university’s first Rhodes Scholar. A Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, she has co-authored two peer-reviewed journal articles and has given 11 research presentations, one of which resulted in her winning the 2016 National Society of Black Engineers Regional Conference award for the best oral presentation. She has interned at Intel and conducted research at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. Mburu plans to study for a doctorate in engineering science at Oxford.

Jordan D. Thomas is a senior at Princeton University where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and double minoring in Portuguese language and culture and African-American studies. He was a Fulbright Summer Institute Fellow at the University of Bristol where he studied the culture, heritage, and history of the U.K. At Princeton, Thomas was elected to be the co-chair of the community house executive board, where he oversees nine student-driven education projects to support underrepresented youth in academic success. At Oxford, Thomas plans to study for a master’s degree in evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation.

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  1. Hearty congratulations to all TEN of you! You represent the Best of our youth. May the wind be always at your backs, at Oxford and wherever else you sojourn thereafter.

  2. Congratulations to each of these wonderful scholars. The world will certainly hear from–and about–them in the future. Congratulations to each recipient!

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