Yale News

Three Yalies — Brian Reyes ’21, Alondra Vázquez López ’21 and Jackson Willis ’20 — were awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship last Sunday, joining a cohort of a total of 32 American students. 

Rhodes Scholarships fully fund up to three years of graduate study at the University of Oxford in England. The competitive scholarship is awarded to students around the world, and is intended for students “with the potential to make a difference for good in the world,” according to the program’s website. This year’s American cohort was selected from a pool of 2,300 applicants, 953 of whom were officially endorsed by colleges and universities. Scholarship recipients were announced on Nov. 21. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire application process, which began in October, was conducted online — including nominations, advising and interviews — for the first time in the scholarship’s history. The fellowship itself is planned to proceed unchanged.

“I am absolutely delighted for Alondra, Brian, and Jackson,” Rebekah Westphal, assistant dean of Yale College and director of fellowship programs, wrote in an email to the News. “We had a superbly strong cohort of applicants and nominees this year and of the nominees, two-thirds were selected for a finalist interview. This is an astounding outcome and a reflection of the strength, diversity, and hard work of this group of candidates as a whole and of the support provided by countless members of the Yale community.”

This year’s cohort “reflect[s] the remarkable diversity” of the United States, according to Elliot Gerson, the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust. Twenty-one of the 32 scholarship recipients are people of color and ten are Black — equaling the largest number of Black students in an American Rhodes scholarship cohort.

Vázquez López is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Mexico and Guatemala. When she found out that she had received the Rhodes Scholarship, she recalls tearfully explaining to her parents in Spanish what the scholarship entails and what she would be studying.

Vázquez López — an Ethnicity, Race and Migration major — will be pursuing a Master of Science in both migration studies and refugee and forced migration studies. She initially applied to the Rhodes Scholarship because very few universities in the United States offer a migration studies master’s program, let alone two programs.

“I honestly did not ever in a million years expect this,” Vázquez López said. “Just for all of the other first generation, low income students of color — you can do it. This is far beyond anything I could have ever thought was possible, and hopefully others can follow.”

Reyes is a first-generation American and first-generation college student. At Oxford, Reyes is planning to complete a Master of Science in comparative social policy. He is interested in racial and economic inequality, and plans to study welfare states and what lessons can be drawn from such states in the search to work against inequality in the United States.

Reyes is a history major, and has been heavily involved in La Casa Cultural during his time at Yale, as a staff member and co-president of the Dominican Students Association. He has also worked with non-Yale groups that advocate for undocumented youth in Connecticut.

“Academically, I am really excited to actually learn more policy ideas and learn how to really institute change,” Reyes said. “But more so than that, I’m really interested to be part of a cohort of some really, really amazing people who I’m going to be spending these next two years with.”

Willis, who graduated from Yale in the spring, is planning to study economic development at Oxford. At Yale, Willis majored in humanities and economics. He is currently living in his hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida, working as a muralist in the city.

During his time at Yale, Willis spent a gap year with the Peace Corps in Guinea. He pointed to this as a formative experience, and one he thinks has prepared him to be a Rhodes Scholar.

“The Rhodes Scholarship in some ways is a call to public service, which is very exciting,” Willis said. “You incur a bit of a debt in a way where you have to pay it back by working on meaningful problems, and that’s something really worthwhile to me. But also, you get to study at one of the great institutions of higher learning, like Yale is, and that’s tremendously exciting.”

The Rhodes Scholarship was first awarded in 1902. 

Amelia Davidson | amelia.davidson@yale.edu

Amelia Davidson currently serves as University Editor for the Yale Daily News. She previously covered admissions, financial aid and alumni as a staff reporter. Originally from the Washington D.C. area, she is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College majoring in American studies.