For the first time ever, the chosen group includes a transgender woman

By Eric Todisco
November 26, 2019 11:43 AM
Credit: Getty

The 32 American students who were selected as Rhodes Scholars stand to be the most diverse bunch in 117-year history of the program, which covers the cost to attend the University of Oxford for at least two years.

The Rhodes Trust announced Sunday that nearly half of the students heading to Oxford next year as Rhodes Scholars are first-generation Americans, and the group includes the first transgender woman selected, Hera Jay Brown, as well as two non-binary students. Meanwhile, it’s the third consecutive year that minority students make up a majority of the class.

“This year’s American Rhodes Scholars — independently elected by 16 committees around the country meeting simultaneously — once again reflect the extraordinary diversity that characterizes and strengthens the United States,” said Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust.

The students will be following in the footsteps of several famous Rhodes Scholars, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, and ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

Brown reacted to becoming the first-ever transgender woman to be selected for the prestigious program on Twitter, writing, “I am just so humbled to have this chance to advocate the rights of and protections for refugees through continued education and training with @rhodes_trust at @UniofOxford. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible.”

She also said in an interview with NBC News that she hoped to inspired other transgender women out there.

“I knew that there had never been a trans woman selected to the Rhodes scholar program and that this was an incredible opportunity to show that we as trans women have contributions to offer, in a time when many parts of society and our country are trying to suppress the reality of our identities and existence,” Brown told the outlet. “Knowing that this is a form of validation, not only for my work but my legitimacy and the legitimacy of my community is breathtaking.”

In 2016, Pema McLaughlin was the first openly transgender to win the American Rhodes scholar. Last year, Calvin Runnels, a transgender man, was among the U.S. group chosen.

This year’s diverse group also includes Kristine E. Guillaume, the first black woman president of the Harvard Crimson newspaper, Daine A. Van de Wall, brigade commander at West Point, and Yale senior Liana Wang, who was the first in her family to attend college, according to the full list of recipients.

The new class will begin their studies at Oxford in October 2020.