Eight African American College Students Selected as Rhodes Scholars

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; 826 were endorsed by 247 different colleges and universities. A total of 235 finalists were chosen representing 76 colleges and universities. A total of 32 scholars were chosen, two from each of 16 districts across the United States. To date, 3,578 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 327 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, eight African Americans were chosen as Rhodes Scholars. In both 2017 and 2020, there were 10 African American Rhodes Scholars, the most in any one year.

Here are brief biographies of the eight 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.

Hannah Blakey, Tawreak Gamble-Eddington, Elvin Irihamye, and MacKenzie Isaac

Hannah M. T. Blakey is a senior at the United States Military Academy, where she majors in Persian and French. Hannah is third-in-command of West Point’s entire Corps of Cadets as well as president of a leadership initiative for students from underrepresented backgrounds. A track and field athlete, she has set school records in the 400-meter relay and 400-meter hurdles. A native of Detroit, Blakey will study for master’s degrees in refugee and forced migration studies and in evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation.

Tawreak J. Gamble-Eddington of Springfield, Massachusetts, graduated in 2021 from Union College in Schenectady, New York, with honors in both history and political science. At Union College, he was awarded the Frank Bailey Prize last spring, awarded annually to the senior who has rendered the greatest service to the college in any field. He is currently completing a master’s degree in race, ethnicity, and conflict at Trinity College Dublin, where he is a Mitchell Scholar. He plans to obtain a second master’s degree in comparative politics at Oxford.

Elvin N. Irihamye from Sammamish, Washington, is a senior at Indiana University where he is majoring in neuroscience. He has been a student advisor to the Indiana University president and also to the vice provost for undergraduate education. While in college, he co-founded and is president of a charitable corporation using industry and academic partnerships to strengthen the pipeline of Black, Latinx, and Native American talent into the workforce. At Oxford, he plans to study for master’s degrees in translational health science and evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation

MacKenzie E. Isaac, from Indianapolis, received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Notre Dame in 2020. She is currently completing a master’s degree in health education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. She also works for Health by Design, an Indianapolis-based non-profit organization, overseeing the organization and implementation of park remodeling projects in two historically African-American neighborhoods. Isaac will student for the Ph.D. in population health at Oxford.

Samantha O’Sullivan, Sydni Scott, Sarah Skinner, and Klarke Stricklen

Samantha C.W. O’Sullivan from Washington, D.C., is a senior at Harvard College, where she majors in physics and African-American studies. At Harvard, she founded and led a student organization that promotes activism related to the legacy of slavery and has published articles on dress codes and bias against Black girls. She has done advanced research in plasma physics at Princeton University and nanoscale systems at Harvard and the University of Maryland, and astrophysics at the Carnegie Institute of Astrophysics. O’Sullivan plans to pursue master’s degrees in the philosophy of physics and applied linguistics at Oxford.

Sydni Scott is a senior at Columbia University from Unionville, Connecticut, majoring in political science. She has done significant work on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, including developing training for dozens of universities participating in The Women’s Network. She also founded The Amendment Project, an organization mobilizing high school students around the issue of reparations, and worked to help secure passage of a local reparations resolution in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is a track and field athlete at Columbia, competing in the long jump and triple jump. Scott will study for a master’s degree in comparative government at Oxford.

Sarah Skinner is a senior at the United States Naval Academy, where she serves as a company commander responsible for 150 midshipmen. Skinner joined the rugby team at the academy having never played the sport. In 2020, she was one of five finalists for the Sorenson Award, given to the nation’s top female collegiate rugby player. At Oxford, Skinner plans to pursue a master’s degree in international relations.

Klarke J. Stricklen is a senior at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where she majors in American studies and African American studies. She is a research assistant for The Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation. Stricklen also serves as president of the local NAACP chapter in Sewanee. At the University of Oxford, Stricklen will pursue a master’s degree in economic and social history.

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  1. Cecil Rhodes is the personification of imperialism and apartheid. Are our best and brightest so career driven that they don’t mind being billboards for white supremacy? And what of JBHE’s silence on the matter, as colleges the world over seek to purge Rhodes’ identity? Not a mention, just praise for our young black winners of a prize made possible by so many black losers. Shame.

    • JBHE has always been upfront on Cecil Rhodes. But the fact remains that the African American winners of Rhodes Scholarships are remarkable young men and women whose accomplishments deserve to be celebrated. Today, the American government awards billions of dollars of scholarships to young African Americans every year. Should they not accept this financial assistance because the American government once supported the trading of enslaved persons?

      • The Editor offers a false equivalency. Jewish students accepting a German government scholarship is not the same as accepting a scholarship named for Hitler. The shame is that while no Jew would ever accept a Hitler Prize, let alone then be praised by Yeshiva University, our black students gleefully accept Rhodes Scholarships, and are then lauded by JBHE. As for JBHE’s ‘upfront’ Rhodes position, google JBHE Rhodes. Nothing comes up but expressions of warm approval for the winners. Oxford is boycotting Rhodes, but not JBHE. (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-57422751) Humiliating…

  2. i contend it would not be the worst thing in the world to not accept financial assistance on the fundamental basis that a possible descendant of ” slaves ” may be uncomfortable accpting monetary support that had its nexus and genesis in such an atrocious endeavor. how is it not OK to use denial as a greater platform to denounce and reject such history. how does the rhodes scholarship know not to extend this type assistance to the greater community at large without there being a selective group criteria that i contend might serve a greater common good if indeed they are remorseful for the impact of their prior history. after all as history suggests we ( descedants of slaves were always auctioned off to the highest bidder based on our individual prowress. does JBHE suggest this is markedly different ? help ME to understand how/why MY premise has no merit !

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