Twelve students with New England ties — six of them from Harvard University — have been selected to receive Rhodes Scholarships next year.
Shera S. Avi-Yonah of Lincoln, a history student at Harvard, said she found out she was selected on a Zoom call from her family home’s basement Saturday afternoon. She ran upstairs to tell her parents and brother, she said, feeling shocked and grateful.
As a reporter and editor for the Harvard Crimson, Avi-Yonah has worked on stories about sexual harassment allegations, some of which led to legal threats to her and the Crimson from members of the Harvard community, she said. No lawsuits have materialized, but those threats made her interested in the ways that people have used law “as a silencing instrument,” she said.
She plans to study libel laws in the United States and the United Kingdom.
“I felt it was really important to understand where threats to press freedom come from, in hope of pursuing a career expanding that freedom,” Avi-Yonah said.
The second winner from the district that covers most of New England is Jeremy N. Thomas, an Amherst College student from Missouri City, Texas, a community outside of Houston. Thomas wrote a senior honors thesis exploring the limits of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause: the brief wording that says states shall not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
This year also marks the first time a student from Southern Connecticut State University has been selected. Asma Rahimyar, of Trumbull, Conn., is the daughter of Afghan refugees who has taken part in a United Nations Conference on Cultural Diplomacy. At Oxford, she hopes to pursue master’s degrees in global governance and diplomacy and in refugee and forced migration studies, hoping to contribute to the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
The Rhodes Trust had to change its selection process because of the coronavirus pandemic. Selection committees and candidates could not meet in person. The winners will have their expenses covered for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.
“Never before has a class of Rhodes Scholars been elected entirely virtually, with both candidates and selectors participating safely, independently, and digitally,” said Elliot F. Gerson, the American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, in a statement.
Nevertheless, he said, the committees chose 32 students in a variety of academic disciplines who also reflect the nation: There are 17 women, 14 men, and one non-binary student. Twenty-two are students of color.
“They are leaders already, and we are confident that their contributions to public welfare globally will expand exponentially over the course of their careers,” Gerson said.
Other winners with New England ties include:
- From Harvard: Swathi R. Srinivasan of Beachwood, Ohio; Nkaziewoh N. Nchinda-Pungong of Oak Creek, Wisc.; Wilfried Kuugauraq Zibell of Noorvik, Alaska; Carissa J. Chen of Tustin, Calif.; and, Elijah C. DeVaughn of Compton, Calif.
- From Yale University: Brian Reyes of the Bronx, N.Y.; Jackson S. Willis of St. Petersburg, Fla.; and, Alondra O. Vázquez López of San Rafael, Calif.
- From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Danielle N. Grey-Stewart of Westbury, N.Y.
Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.