It’s a select group of college students who can claim the title of a Rhodes Scholar. This year, a record three African-American female students were just chosen for the honor.
Joy A. Buolamwini, Rhiana E. Gunn-Wright, and Nina M. Yancy will be off to study at the UK’s Oxford University next year. The three women beat out 1,700 other American students who sought the scholarship.
The Rhodes Scholarships are considered by many to be the most prestigious awards given to U.S. college students. It was created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, an industrialist who made a fortune in colonial Africa. “Each year, 32 Americans are named Rhodes Scholars. The scholarships provide funds for two or three years of graduate study at Oxford University in Britain,” writes The Journal of Blacks in Education (JBHE).
Rhodes Scholars are also picked from 14 other destinations around the world for a total of about 80 Rhodes Scholars worldwide annually. Among the famous Rhodes Scholars are United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice; Newark Mayor Cory Booker; Apprentice winner, entrepreneur Randal Pinkett; and former President Bill Clinton.
While their numbers are few, there have been other black Rhodes Scholars, such as Alain LeRoy Locke. He was awarded a scholarship in 1907 and went on to become a major philosopher and literary figure of the Harlem Renaissance. “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,” reports JBHE. The next African-American Rhodes Scholar wasn’t selected until 1962, when John Edgar Wideman, now an author and professor at Brown University, was chosen. Other African-American Rhodes Scholars include Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law School; Kurt Schmoke, former mayor of Baltimore and now dean of the law school at Howard University; and Franklin D. Raines, former director of the Office of Management and Budget and former CEO of Fannie Mae. The first African-American woman selected as a Rhodes Scholar was selected in 1978, Karen Stevenson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The new awardees are already off to a great start. Buolamwini, a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology and computer science major, is currently working at the Carter Center in Atlanta. She has founded or co-founded three businesses. At Oxford, she wants to obtain a degree in African studies. Yale University graduate Gunn-Wright holds a Bachelor’s degree in African American studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. She has been working at Women’s Policy Research and plans a Master’s degree in comparative social policy at Oxford. Unlike the other two, Yancy is a still in school. She is senior at Harvard University where she majors in social studies. She has interned at CNN, the Center for American Political Studies and in the British House of Commons. She is also a member of the Harvard Ballet Company. Yancy plans on pursuing a Master’s degree in global health science as a Rhodes Scholar.