Recently, the Rhodes Trust announced the 32 American winners of Rhodes Scholarships for graduate study at Oxford University in England. Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England and may allow funding in some instances for four years. 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.”
Applicants in the United States may apply either through the state where they are a legal resident or where they have attended college for at least two years. This year, more than 2,900 students began the application process; 963 were endorsed by 298 different colleges and universities. Two-hundred thirty-six applicants from 90 different colleges and universities reached the final stage of the competition. A total of 32 scholars were chosen, two from each of 16 districts across the United States. To date, 3,516 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 324 colleges and universities.
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.
This year, four African Americans – all women – were chosen as Rhodes Scholars. Last year, there were three African American among the 32 scholars chosen from the U.S. In 2017, there were 10 African American Rhodes Scholars, the most in any one year in the history of the scholarship.
Here are brief biographies of the four African American Rhodes Scholars selected this year.
Kristine E. Guillaume of Forest Hills, New York, is a senior at Harvard University, where she is majoring in history and literature, and in African and African American studies. Guillaume is the first Black woman president of the Harvard Crimson, the independent daily, student-run newspaper. At the University of Oxford, she will pursue a master’s degree in English and American studies, and a master’s degree in U.S. history.
Wanjiku N. Gatheru, is a senior at the University of Connecticut. She is a first-generation American of Kenyan descent and the first Rhodes Scholar ever elected from the University of Connecticut. Her major is in environmental studies, and she has minors in global studies and in urban and community studies, all with a perfect academic record. Gatheru was previously honored as a Truman Scholar and a Udall Scholar. At Oxford, she plans to study for a master’s degree in nature, society and environmental governance and a master’s degree in evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation.
Megan A. Yamoah is a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology majoring in physics and electrical engineering. Her research expertise is in quantum computing for which she has received competitive funding awards. She serves on the executive board of MIT Undergraduate Women in Physics and as the president of the MIT Society of Physics Students. The daughter of immigrants, she is passionate about connecting entrepreneurs from around the world with the resources required to scale their ideas to impact. At Oxford, Yamoah will pursue a master’s degree in economics.
Arielle C.T. Hudson is a senior at the University of Mississippi majoring in English. She is the president of the Black Student Union, and as a senator in the Associated Student Body Government, co-authored a resolution to remove a Confederate statue from campus. At Oxford, Hudson plans to pursue a master’s degree in education and a master’s degree in comparative social policy. After Oxford, Hudson will return to Mississippi to teach in the public schools and also hopes to attend law school.