Rhodes Scholarship Goes “Woke”, Becomes a Joke

The Rhodes Scholarship is just a bauble for affirmative action beneficiaries and left-wing activists. Neither is impressive, and conservatives shouldn’t be afraid to say so. Rhodes Scholarships are not impressive or praiseworthy; they demonstrate nothing but an ability to win a politicized ass-kissing contest. It doesn’t matter if Rhodes Scholars were once deeply impressive, just like it doesn’t matter if the Nobel Peace Prize was once a great honor, or The New York Times was once a distinguished newspaper. Now, both are jokes.


Twitter user David Burge provided one of the finest, and most succinct, descriptions of modern leftism in a brief tweet back in 2015:

Burge’s observation has been vindicated over and over again, in one once-useful institution after another. From Harvard University to the FBI, from The New York Times to the Boy Scouts of America, America is littered with organizations that may have deserved respect fifty or one hundred years ago, but are now destructive, parasitic entities sucking the lifeblood of America.

One of the most glaring skin suits of all, though, is America’s most famous academic award, the Rhodes Scholarship.

The Rhodes Scholarship was established in 1902 by diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes, to award the most accomplished students and promote harmony between the United States, Germany, and the nations of the British Empire.

The 2021 Rhodes class, announced in late November, is such an orgy of left-wing identity politics it would be impossible to parody.

“This year’s American Rhodes Scholars—independently elected by 16 committees around the country meeting simultaneously—reflect the remarkable diversity that characterizes and strengthens the United States. Twenty-one of the 32 are students of color; ten are Black, equal to the greatest number ever elected in one year in the United States. Fifteen are first-generation Americans or immigrants; and one is a Dreamer with active DACA status. Seventeen of the winners are women, 14 are men, and one is nonbinary. These young Americans will go to Oxford next October to study in fields broadly across the social, biological and physical sciences, the humanities, and public policy. They are leaders already, and we are confident that their contributions to public welfare globally will expand exponentially over the course of their careers.” [Rhodes Trust]

Of course, the scholarship winners don’t reflect the diversity of America in the slightest. What they reflect is the political obsessions of those running the Rhodes Scholarship.

The biographies of the winners are even more absurd than the initial press release. Each profile seems written with an eye toward being even more ridiculous than the one before.

Wilfried J.K. Zibell, Noorvik, is a senior at Harvard College where they major in Comparative Literature and Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. Wilfried comes from an Inuit (Nuurvik) subsistence village in the Alaskan arctic, and through education policymaking, language preservation and labor activism, has focused on the effects of colonialism. This past summer, he worked with his tribal association on its initial COVID-19 outbreak. His senior thesis compares comparative aspects of imperialism in Yiddish, in which he has done archival research, and Inupiat poetry.

Tyrese D. Bender … has been instrumental in drafting the first-ever Diversity Strategy designed to establish a more inclusive environment at the [U.S. Military] Academy. He also established a character training protocol for 1300 cadets around issues including race, sexual harassment and assault, mental health, political activism and COVID-19.

Garima P. Desai … is passionate about using economics as a tool to solve pressing climate issues.

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. … 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.

Elijah C. DeVaughn[‘s] academic interests lie in exploring how rhetoric is used by Black political leaders to combat racial injustice. Elijah has worked on issues of legal representation, clemency, and prison advocacy.

Jamal T. Burns[‘s] research engages colonial influences on interpretations of the masculinity of Black boys in school settings. Jamal is a leading promoter of a new debate paradigm known as performance debate.

Jeremy N. Thomas, Missouri City, Texas, is a senior at Amherst College, where he … launched the campus’s first student-run Office of Student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He has also held numerous leadership roles in the Amherst College Black Student Union. His senior honors thesis analyzes limits on the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause, and he has published academic research on death row exonerations.

Brian Reyes … 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.

Carissa J. Chen, Tustin … identified the first known living descendants of Harvard’s slaves and initiated efforts to begin discussions on reparations and reconciliation to these families. [Rhodes House]

Five of the thirty-two scholars will pursue a ridiculous masters degree in “Refugee and Forced Migration Studies.” Only a handful of honorees have biographies with no political buzzwords whatsoever; they are almost certainly the most genuinely impressive winners.

One Rhodes Scholar who spoke with Revolver said that the transformation of the scholarship has been breathtaking.

“The decline has been so rapid,” she said.

The Scholar said that procedural changes to how the scholarship is awarded were crucial in transforming it into just another prize for far-left activism. In the past, 50 separate state committees chose finalists, after which eight regional committees selected four scholarship winners apiece. Now, the process is only single-step, with 16 regional committees picking two winners, with no state finalist phase.

“This is a bigger change than it seems,” she said. “The state committees under the old system were a bit more constrained to seek some kind of universal sense of excellence, because they couldn’t just pick the winners — they had to pick the candidates from their state they thought would also impress the regional committee. Then, on the other side, the regional committee was constrained to picking from among the twelve-ish candidates their states sent up.”

The Scholar noted that under the old system even if a committee wanted to choose an under-qualified candidate for the sake of “diversity,” they tended to only make one such pick among the four winners. Under the new system, with 16 regional committees, there is still a tendency to make at least one “diverse” pick, but now such winners comprise half of all selections rather than just one fourth.

The new selection process encourages left-wing activism over real achievement in another way, the Scholar said.

“The old system involved up to 500 people, mostly older Rhodes Scholars, interviewing across the two levels,” she said. “Now the system involves perhaps 100 or 120 people, so it’s much easier to stack the entire process completely with liberals. And that’s definitely what the US Secretary who runs it wants to do.”

And thus the process has resulted in the absurdity seen today, where an army of affirmative action choices and grievance politics specialists are presented as the best and brightest America has to offer.

The solution, of course, is to stop pretending that they actually are the best and the brightest. The Rhodes Scholarship is just a bauble for affirmative action beneficiaries and left-wing activists. Neither is impressive, and conservatives shouldn’t be afraid to say so. Rhodes Scholarships are not impressive or praiseworthy; they demonstrate nothing but an ability to win a politicized ass-kissing contest. It doesn’t matter if Rhodes Scholars were once deeply impressive, just like it doesn’t matter if the Nobel Peace Prize was once a great honor, or The New York Times was once a distinguished newspaper. Now, both are jokes.

In a larger sense, these developments point to the ambiguous status of so-called “prestige” in a fractured, hollowed out nation with minimal social cohesion and a corrupt, decrepit, plunderous ruling class. The very notion of prestige presupposes an underlying consensus within society as to what is valuable — the weaker a nation’s social cohesion gets, the harder it is to maintain a consensus of “value” that could sustain the force of real “prestige.” Thus, the more fractured the American population becomes, and the further its ruling class and the legacy institutions it controls become de-legitimized, the less genuine prestige can operate as a real force. This dynamic applies not only to prestige, but the force of “ideology” as well, and indeed any source of consensus value that is not strictly material — money, property, raw power.

This observation points to both good and bad news. The good news is that it is becoming more and more difficult our nation’s corrupt ruling class to manipulate and control its population by means of prestige and pretty illusions. At a certain point, giving undeserved honors to hypothetical transgendered basket weavers does more to damage the prestige of the award given than it does enhance the prestige of the awardee. Over time the whole farce of the exercise is obvious, and this brings a welcome and important clarity regarding the mediocrity, corruption and rot in our institutions and the people who run them.

The bad news is that the less America’s corrupt ruling class is able to deceive the people with pretty lies and false prestige, the more they will resort to brute force and intimidation. Whereas once people may have believed that so-and-so mediocrity deserves prestige because she was granted an historically prestigious award, now people may know the truth but pretend otherwise-or else. What was once an exercise in deception is now an overt humiliation ritual perpetrated against the public.

In the end, shifting from the deception of illusions, ideology and prestige to the raw intimidation of brute force may not be as effective in the West as it is in a society like China. Americans have never responded to brute force and intimidation very well, and have always required some suite of pretty illusions to be manipulated into acting against their own interests. And so, while the ruling class resorts ever-more to brute force and intimidation, their position ultimately weakens — creating an opening for brilliant, fearless young patriots to take the mantle of a new, emerging elite.

As this process takes place we must always take heed to reject and mock the fraudulent meritocracy of the left, as we work to create our own, genuine aristocracy of excellence. The future is bright for those bold enough to seize it, and one day we will be positioned to seize the institutions and the nation that rightfully belong to us, and to utterly smash the remnants of false prestige that our decrepit ruling class hands out as false idols to the mediocrity and mendaciousness that keeps this rotten system going.