Ten African Americans Are Among This Year’s 32 Rhodes Scholars From the United States

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 2,300 students began the application process; 953 were endorsed by 288 different colleges and universities. Some 238 applicants from 86 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, 3,548 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 326 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, 10 African Americans were chosen as Rhodes Scholars. In 2017, there were also 10 African American Rhodes Scholars. This is the most in any one year in the history of the scholarship. In 2019, there were four African American winners, all women. In 2018, there were three African Americans among the 32 scholars chosen from the United States.

Here are brief biographies of the 10 African American Rhodes Scholars selected this year. Once again this year, JBHE would like to thank Peggy Terry for her assistance in the research on this post.

Rhodes Scholars
(L to R) Tyrese D. Bender, Aryemis C. Brown, Phaidra S. Buchanan, Jamal T. Burns, and Elijah C. DeVaughn

Tyrese D. Bender of Fairfax,Virginia, is in his final year at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He is majoring in engineering. He is a deputy brigade commander, the second-highest ranking cadet in the West Point chain of command. Bender has a 4.0 GPA. He established a character training protocol for 1,300 cadets around issues including race, sexual harassment and assault, mental health, political activism and COVID-19. Bender is also captain of the track and field team and a champion triple jumper. As a Rhodes Scholar, he plans to study for a master’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation.

Aryemis C. Brown, is a senior at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he majors in legal studies and humanities and minors in religion studies and philosophy. Brown’s research interests are in space and cyberspace law, technology, policy, and philosophy. He commanded the Air Force Cadet Wing as commander of troops, serving as the highest-ranking cadet at the Academy. His overall order of merit, combining athletic, military and academic factors is 2 of 1059. He was named a Truman Scholar this year from Maryland, where he graduated from high school. At Oxford, Brown will pursue a master’s degree in global governance and diplomacy and a master of public policy degree.

Phaidra S. Buchanan is a senior at the University of Georgia, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education. Buchanan conducted research on the university’s role in the institution of slavery and studied the lived experiences of enslaved people connected to the university as a member of the History of Slavery at UGA research team. She also volunteers with an organization working to ensure equal access to higher education for students of immigrant families. Buchanan plans a career as a teacher and as an advocate for policies that empower students and communities. At Oxford, she plans to obtain a master’s degree in comparative and international education.

Jamal T. Burns of St. Louis is a senior at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he majors in history. A Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, his research engages colonial influences on interpretations of the masculinity of Black boys in school settings. Burns is a leading promoter of a new debate paradigm known as performance debate; he organized a speech and debate tournament that brings high school debaters from across the country to Duke. Jamal also founded and ran a campus organization for first-generation college students. At Oxford, Burns will study for a master’s degree in social anthropology and a master’s degree in education.

Elijah C. DeVaughn is from Compton, California. He is a senior at Harvard College, where he concentrates in history and literature. A Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, his academic interests lie in exploring how rhetoric is used by Black political leaders to combat racial injustice. DeVaughn has worked on issues of legal representation, clemency, and prison advocacy. Most recently, he worked for the Secretary of Legal Affairs in the Office of California Governor Gavin Newsom where he reviewed state prisoners’ applications for commutations and pardons. DeVaughn is an actor, dancer, and singer and serves as the Chief of Public Service on the Harvard Undergraduate Council. At Oxford, he plans on studying for a master’s degree in history.

Rhodes Scholars
(L to R) Danielle N. Grey-Stewart, Nkaziewok N. Nchinda-Pungong, Samuel E. Patterson, Jeremy N. Thomas, and Evan C. Walker

Danielle N. Grey-Stewart hails from Westbury, New York. She is a senior at MIT majoring in materials science and engineering. A materials scientist who is passionate about social justice, Grey-Stewart has extensive independent research experience and is a student leader at MIT’s Center for Public Service. She is also the current chair of the Undergraduate Association Committee on COVID-19 and serves on the Student Advisory Group for Engineering. Grey-Stewart plans on a career that will “responsibly use the elegance of engineering to address the immense inequity within our society” and integrate historically ignored perspectives into science policy. At Oxford, Grey-Stewart plans to pursue a master’s degree in nature, society, and environmental governance.

Nkaziewok N. Nchinda-Pungong  is from Oak Creek, Wisconsin. He is a senior at Harvard College where is majoring in biomedical engineering with a minor in sociology. Nchinda-Pungong is working with a team to design a smartphone-based hemoglobin sensor for point-of-care anemia diagnosis. He is is editor-in-chief of Harvard Brevia, the goal of which is to make scientific research more accessible to students and the general public. In addition to extensive research in microbiology, Nchinda-Pungong has been active in Engineers Without Borders, is co-President of the Harvard Community of Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics, and volunteered extensively in a homeless shelter. The son of Cameroonian immigrants, Nkazi’s focus at Oxford will be to merge his interests in bioengineering and global health in order to make healthcare more scalable and affordable. He will pursue a master’s degree in research in engineering science.

Samuel E. Patterson of Marietta, Georgia, is a senior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is triple majoring in mathematics, statistics, and economics. Patterson has done summer research in economics and education at Harvard and in business at the University of Chicago. An accomplished musician, Patterson is the music director of a community organization and plays upright and electric jazz bass, and volunteered to teach the basics of computer programming to middle school students. His deep work in economics through an equity lens has focused on the importance of transportation infrastructure to improve economic opportunity. Patterson will study for a master’s degree in nature, society and environmental governance at Oxford.

Jeremy N. Thomas is a senior at Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he is a double major in English and law, jurisprudence, and social thought. Thomas serves as student body president of the Association of Amherst Students and launched the campus’s first student-run Office of Student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He has also held numerous leadership roles in the Amherst College Black Student Union. His senior honors thesis analyzes limits on the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause. Thomas has published academic research on death row exonerations. A resident of Missouri City, Texas, as a Rhodes Scholar Thomas plans to pursue both a master’s degree in criminal justice and criminology and a master’s degree in comparative social policy.

Evan C. Walker of Rowlett, Texas, is in her final year at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she majors in operations research, with focuses in statistics and linear algebra. Her thesis analyzes the demographics of promotion and attrition among U.S. Army Field Grade Officers. Walker is a Regimental Commander, served as the chief liaison between survivors of sexual harassment or assault and on-campus medical professionals, and is president of an initiative to mentor minority cadets. Walker is also captain of the nationally ranked and gender integrated Army Boxing Team and last year placed second nationally in her weight class. At Oxford, Walker plans to pursue a master’s degree in sociology and a master’s degre in statistical science.

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  1. With all the Black Excellence from HBCUs, it is hard to believe that not even one of these 10 chosen scholars are from of these fine institutions.

  2. Outstanding academic achievements, these young scholars represent a new generation of academicians. Congratulations to all of you and your family legacy is in the corner stone of History. That being said, HBCU’s provides awesome advance degrees check us out.

  3. Why would any so-called native born Black American or even “African/Caribbean” immigrant college student accept a Rhodes Scholarship when the quintessential racist CECIL RHODES literally slaughtered millions of Africans. For those who dissent, do you think so-called Jewish undergraduate students would accept a graduate scholarship funded by and named after Hitler? I don’t think so. This can only happen when you’re totally ignorant of world history no matter if you have a high GPA.

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