Six African Americans Among the 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.

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 1963, that 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 more than 2,500 students began the application process; 862 were endorsed by 249 different colleges and universities. Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts interviewed the strongest applicants. All districts interviewed at least 14 finalists.

Including this year’s cohort, 3,642 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 327 colleges and universities.

Typically the Rhodes Trust does not reveal the race or ethnicity of scholarship winners. Of this year’s 32 Rhodes Scholars from the United States, it appears that six are African Americans.

Tatyana N. Brown, from San Antonio, Texas, graduated from New York University Abu Dhabi in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in social research and public policy. She is now a Henry Luce Scholar in Taiwan working at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. At Oxford, she will pursue a master’s degree in comparative social policy and a master’s degree in visual, material, and museum anthropology.

Donovan D. Dixon of Philadelphia graduated from New York University in 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in public policy. He served as an intern for the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. As a Rhodes Scholar, he will pursue a master’s degree in comparative social policy.

Victoria Harwell, from Denver, Colorado, is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, majoring in African and African American studies and environmental analysis. At Oxford, Harwell will pursue a master’s degree in African studies and a master’s degree in nature, society, and environmental governance.

Madison M. Jennings is a senior at Agnes Scott College in Georgia, where she is majoring in political science. She is president of the pre-law society and an intern at the Carter Center, where she has worked on issues ranging from supporting civil society organizations in Liberia to identifying policing alternatives in Georgia. In England, she will study for a master’s degree in public policy and a master’s degree in public policy research.

Isabella G. Sullivan, of San Antonio, Texas, is a senior at the United States Military Academy where she majors in international history. She serves as the deputy brigade commander of the Corps of Cadets and is a two-time captain of the women’s volleyball team at West Point. Sullivan will study for a master’s degree in evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation at Oxford.

Jacqueline N. Testamark from Levittown, New York, is a senior at Yale University majoring in classical civilizations and history. Much of her academic work has centered on examining minority histories in classical art and literature. At Oxford, Testamark will pursue a master’s degree in the history of art and visual culture.

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