The process to elect the U.S. Rhodes Scholars for 2021 has been completed virtually for the first time as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe.
The Rhodes Trust announced the 32 winners early Sunday.
The group includes 22 students of color. Ten are Black, tying the record for most Black students elected in a single year.
Nearly 1,000 applicants were endorsed by 288 different colleges and universities to study at Oxford University in England next year.
Asma Rahimyar, a 20-year-old senior at Southern Connecticut State University, is the first-ever Rhodes winner from that institution. The University of California, Santa Cruz was also represented on the list of Rhodes Scholars for the first time.
The daughter of parents who emigrated from Afghanistan, Rahimyar was raised in Trumbull, Connecticut and grew up listening to her parents’ stories of war-torn Kabul. She hopes to earn two master’s degrees, one in forced migration and refugee studies and one in global governance and diplomacy, with an eye toward a career in international human rights law.
Shera Avi-Yonah, a 22-year-old Harvard University student, said she found out about her win Saturday night while she was sitting in her parents' basement in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
“A wave of gratitude washed over me,” Avi-Yonah said, adding that she ran upstairs to tell her parents. “I’m going to have a very happy Thanksgiving.”
The winners were chosen from a pool of more than 2,300 applicants — of which 953 were endorsed by 288 different colleges and universities to study at Oxford University in England.
Avi-Yonah is planning to study history at Oxford, comparing the libel laws of the U.S. and United Kingdom. She is a reporter at the Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper, and has been the subject of several lawsuits for various stories -- prompting her interest in the limits of press freedom.
Sixteen committees from the Rhodes Trust invited the strongest applicants to interview virtually. The committees then made their selection of two students from each district.
The winners include 17 women, 14 men and one nonbinary person.
Asma Rahimyar, Trumbull
Asma Rahimyar, Trumbull, is a senior at Southern Connecticut State University, where she majors in Politics and International Studies while pursuing a second B.A. in Philosophy and a minor in English. A Truman Scholar, she has been a leader in student government and multicultural activities and is President of the Muslim Student Association. Asma also participated in a United Nations Conference on Cultural Diplomacy. Her parents are Afghan refugees, and she hopes to help in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. She is the first Rhodes Scholar and we believe first Rhodes applicant from Southern Connecticut State University. At Oxford, Asma plans to do master’s degrees in Global Governance and Diplomacy and in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies.
Brian Reyes, Bronx NY
Brian Reyes, Bronx, is a Yale College senior pursuing a B.A. in History. He combined a perfect and deep academic record with an extraordinary commitment to bringing people together, including connections among Latino and Black communities. Brian served as President of the Yale Dominican Student Association, led an initiative to guide low-income students through the U.S. naturalization process, and was a lead organizer to ensure that undocumented students in Connecticut could receive scholarships. He has also studied at a university in the Dominican Republic and was a first-year counselor at Yale. Brian plans to do the M.Phil. in Comparative Social Policy at Oxford.
Alondra O. Vázquez López San Rafael, CA
Alondra Vazquez Lopez, San Rafael, is a senior at Yale College where she majors in Ethnicity, Race and Migration. Her senior thesis, including exhibition of her art, is on Modern Illicit Migration Corridors in the Americas. Alondra has also studied Arabic in Morocco. She is a founding member and president of an undergraduate chapter of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, an active advocate for DACA students, and vice president of a nonprofit dedicated to creating portraits for children internationally who have endured significant adversity. She has also worked directly for asylum clients in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Alondra plans to do the M.Sc. in Migration Studies and the M.Sc. in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at Oxford.
Jackson S. Willis St. Petersburg, FL - Graduated Yale in Spring 2020
Jackson S. Willis, St. Petersburg, received a B.A. from Yale in 2020, majoring in Humanities and Economics. While completing his B.A., Jackson took a year’s leave to participate in the Peace Corps Response program in Guinea, where he worked to improve youth employment. He was executive director of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, the college’s largest service organization, served in student government, and was a student curator and gallery guide at the Yale Center for British Art. Jackson has painted St. Petersburg landmarks as a public art muralist and enjoys long-distance running. At Oxford, Jackson will pursue an M.Sc. in Economics for Development and an M.Sc. in Global Governance and Diplomacy.