A Hunter College senior is making waves throughout the CUNY system after becoming the first Hunter student to be awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship.
Thamara Jean, a political science and media analysis and criticism major, was awarded the scholarship in late November.
Jean is the only New York college student to become a 2018 Rhodes scholar, as well as one of 10 African-American students, the most ever in the scholarship’s 104-year-old history. In total, 32 U.S. residents were selected to be 2018 Rhodes scholars, out of the 866 applicants endorsed by 299 colleges and universities.
“I found out that I got the interview first and it was really exciting,” said Jean, who is also a Macaulay Honors College student, in an interview with The Ticker. “It’s a rare opportunity, so I was really excited about it.”
Jean, who plans on studying political theory while at the University of Oxford, wrote her senior thesis on the Black Lives Matter movement, a piece which she began working on at the movement’s peak in 2014.
“I wanted to make sure that I had the opportunity to connect the philosophy I was learning about in class with things that were actually happening in everyday life and it was easy at the time, because the movement was so new, to trivialize it,” Jean said. “But I knew from just the classes that I was taking that it had a background in a really strong tradition and I wanted to make sure to connect the tradition to the movement that it came from and essentially advocate why the optimistic life-affirming tradition that it comes from is the best one to use when shaping protests against racial oppression.”
She partially incorporated this thesis into the personal statement that is required for the Rhodes scholarship application. Jean said that the statement mostly touched on “the conversations that we have around race, police brutality and things of the sort. How studying it can better inform and possibly improve the conversations that we have about it.”
Jean partially credits Hunter College’s faculty and staff with helping her obtain the scholarship.
“I think that … the process of learning about the scholarship was indicative of the support that I had being a student at Hunter College,” Jean said. “I’ve been lucky and fortunate enough that every professor and advisor that I’ve had knows me personally and [has] really taken an interest in the things that I’m passionate about academically and they’ve been essential in pointing me in the right direction and every step of the way.”
The Rhodes scholarship is a highly selective international scholarship that entitles a recipient to enroll in any full-time postgraduate course at Oxford for two years. Students can also apply during their second year to study for an additional year. Scholars additionally receive a monthly stipend in order to cover any living expenses while studying.
Access to a sprawling, colonial-style mansion, the Rhodes House, is also provided to all scholars. The house contains gardens, a library, study areas and numerous other facilities. The scholarship and the aforementioned benefits are funded by the Rhodes Trust, an educational charity established by British mining magnate and Oxford alumnus Cecil Rhodes.
According to the Rhodes Trust, applicants must meet a large array of criteria in order to be considered for the scholarship. This includes “literary and scholastic attainments,” “energy to use one’s talents to the fullest,” “truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship” and “moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one’s fellow beings.”
In order to apply, a student must obtain the endorsement of their college or university, provide five to eight letters of recommendation, including one that endorses the applicant’s character and four that are written by the applicant’s instructors and also write a personal statement that describes their academic interests and the areas that the applicant would study at Oxford.
After her time at Oxford, Jean hopes to apply to Ph.D. programs, eventually become a professor and hopes to do research in the same topics she is studying now. She would also like to do work through nonprofits or community organizations that are “closely involved in what’s happening on the ground in the communities that I care about.”