Four Yalies — seniors Lillian Moore-Eissenberg ’20, Christina Pao ’20 and Liana Wang ’20, and recent graduate Laura Plata ’19 — are among this year’s cohort of Americans awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, marking the largest number of women from Yale to receive the award in a single year.
The upcoming Rhodes cohort was announced on Nov. 23. The scholarship covers all expenses for two, three or, in some cases, four years of study at the University of Oxford in England. One hundred students — 32 Americans and 68 from other countries — were selected for the award, according to last week’s press release.
“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 American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust Elliot F. Gerson.
The scholarship recipients were nominated by their colleges or universities and selected from a pool of 963 applicants. For the third consecutive year, the majority of the recipients minorities, and approximately half of the recipients are first-generation Americans. The class also includes the first transgender woman to be elected for a Rhodes Scholarship, along with two nonbinary scholars.
Wang is majoring in economics, while Moore-Eissenberg and Pao are double majoring in English and philosophy, and classics and political science, respectively. Plata graduated in 2019 with a degree in Ethics, Politics and Economics.
Moore-Eissenberg’s work focuses on analyzing the exploitation of marginalized groups. She said she applied to the scholarship because she “wanted to continue studying philosophy on the graduate level” and “wanted to be part of a community of passionate scholars.” While at Oxford, Moore-Eissenberg plans to pursue a B.Phil. in philosophy and later hopes to pursue a career in academic philosophy or journalism.
“I feel grateful to have this opportunity to keep exploring my interests, academic and otherwise, at a place as intellectually vibrant as Oxford,” she said. “It really makes me reflect on all the support systems and teachers I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life.”
Pao plans to pursue an M.Phil. in sociology and demography. Pao said that she hopes to return to the United States afterwards to pursue a doctorate in demography with an “emphasis on migration, displacement and integration.” In the long term, Pao hopes to work on creating “gender-responsive, community-based frameworks for migrant integration.”
Pao said that she is “extraordinarily grateful” for the support given by Yale. Pao applied after encouragement from one of her thesis advisors as she had walked through the U.K. Fellowship process with advisees in years prior.
Wang — a staff columnist for the News — focuses on the effects of the tax and welfare systems on inequality in the United States in her studies. She is the first in her family to attend college and plans a career as an economist focusing on labor, public finance and social policy. Wang plans to pursue an M.Phil. in politics. She did not respond to requests for comment.
Plata’s research explores the relationship between the criminalization of Central American asylum seekers and the global trend towards closed borders. At Oxford, she will pursue the M.Sc. in refugee and forced migration studies and the M.Sc. in comparative social policy. She hopes to use her studies to help advocate for stronger protections for asylum seekers, as well as to understand how to engage with Latin American partners. Since she graduated from Yale last year, she has been working in Mexico and learning about the criminalization of asylum seekers.
“I think it meant a lot to me because of the communities I come from,” Plata said. “It shows that first-generation students can be really successful at Yale. It is important to think of the scholarship as if you are selected for it. You are seen as someone who has a lot of potential to change the world for the good.”
The largest cohort of female Yale recipients of the scholarship comes the same year as Yale College’s 50th anniversary of co-education. Pao and Moore-Eissenberg both noted the importance of the anniversary.
“I think it’s a testament to the growing power of women on campus,” Moore-Eissenberg said. “You see women leading publications, service groups, student governments. It’s really inspiring, and I hope that the four of us winning Rhodes helps to strengthen that trend.”
Earlier this month, Marwan Safar Jalani ’20 won a Rhodes Scholarship for the Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine region.
Kelly Wei | firstname.lastname@example.org
This article has been updated to reflect the version that appeared in print on Dec. 2.