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CHOSEN TO LEAD: Generations of Rhodes Scholars in American Meritocracy.
Unformatted Document Text:  Youn and Arnold ASHE 2006 Scholarship attractive and winnable. Beyond a predisposition to value public service, Rhodes Scholars appear to have been influenced by the Rhodes Scholarship competition process. A variety of rituals associated with both the application and selection processes invoked the language of the will and the Founder’s aspirations. Applicants address the selection criteria of Cecil Rhodes’ will directly in their written materials. A 1990s Scholar saw the value of applying as “a process of getting in touch with your own ideals and directions and what you want to be able to do, but in the context of what the Trust is hoping for, so that in the process of applying you really are sort of thinking about how you can fit into that set of ideals.” According to the Rhodes Scholars we interviewed, selection interviews typically focus on public affairs and the relationship of scholarly knowledge to socially beneficial action. Several respondents were asked directly about the legacy of Cecil Rhodes. All were required to articulate the social relevance of their academic work and professional goals. Once selected as a Rhodes Scholar, additional rituals underscore the theme of leadership in the public good. For most of the study period, newly elected Rhodes Scholars have gathered in Washington, D.C. or New York City before departing for Oxford 7 . The formal activities of this period include cultural and political events and meetings. New Rhodes Scholars hear directly from important alumni and other prominent figures. According to one of the organizers, the clear message is one of belonging to an important group in which one is expected to take one’s place. Although Rhodes Scholars reside in the various Oxford Colleges, “Rhodes House” at the University of Oxford is the headquarters of the Rhodes Trust and the residence of its chief officer. By most accounts, the Warden of Rhodes House plays a minor role for most Rhodes Scholars. Nonetheless, activities and events sponsored by the Trust reinforce expectations of public service and continue to socialize Rhodes Scholars into leadership circles. Presidents, prime ministers, and other world leaders visit Rhodes House and meet with current scholars. Queen Elizabeth has hosted receptions for current Rhodes Scholars at Buckingham Palace. As one Scholar remembered: “Well, there were afternoon teas organized by the Warden and there were some prominent public leaders invited… But what was notable was that we were able to see these people and have informal conversations with these individuals in a variety of public and international issues.” As with sailing week pre-departure activities, meetings with public figures reinforces Rhodes Scholars’ identity as future leaders and provides them with models of public achievement. Beyond the Rhodes Trust, Oxford itself was enormously influential. Oxford’s select British and international student body, along with its rich history, collegiate system, tutorial pedagogy, and student self-governance all send the message that this is the training ground for elites. The Rhodes Scholarship “may help you to be a leader because it gives you a certain status and self-regard because you are essentially being trained with who’s going to be the leadership of the U.K” said a 1980s Rhodes Scholar. Another was asked where he heard the message that he was expected to fulfill the Rhodes obligation by 7 Until 1981, Rhodes Scholars took part in a weekend of activities before sailing as a group to England. New U.S. Rhodes Scholars now participate in a ‘sailing week’ of pre-departure events and activities organized by the Rhodes Scholars alumni association before flying to the U.K. 13

Authors: Youn, Ted. and Arnold, Karen.
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background image
Youn and Arnold 
ASHE 2006
Scholarship attractive and winnable. 
Beyond a predisposition to value public service, Rhodes Scholars appear to have 
been influenced by the Rhodes Scholarship competition process.   A variety of rituals 
associated with both the application and selection processes invoked the language of the 
will and the Founder’s aspirations.  Applicants address the selection criteria of Cecil 
Rhodes’ will directly in their written materials.  A 1990s Scholar saw the value of 
applying as “a process of getting in touch with your own ideals and directions and what 
you want to be able to do, but in the context of what the Trust is hoping for, so that in the 
process of applying you really are sort of thinking about how you can fit into that set of 
ideals.” According to the Rhodes Scholars we interviewed, selection interviews typically 
focus on public affairs and the relationship of scholarly knowledge to socially beneficial 
action.  Several respondents were asked directly about the legacy of Cecil Rhodes.  All 
were required to articulate the social relevance of their academic work and professional 
goals.  
Once selected as a Rhodes Scholar, additional rituals underscore the theme of 
leadership in the public good.  For most of the study period, newly elected Rhodes 
Scholars have gathered in Washington, D.C. or New York City before departing for 
Oxford
.  The formal activities of this period include cultural and political events and 
meetings. New Rhodes Scholars hear directly from important alumni and other prominent 
figures.  According to one of the organizers, the clear message is one of belonging to an 
important group in which one is expected to take one’s place.  
Although Rhodes Scholars reside in the various Oxford Colleges,  “Rhodes 
House” at the University of Oxford  is the headquarters of the Rhodes Trust and the 
residence of its chief officer.  By most accounts, the Warden of Rhodes House plays a 
minor role for most Rhodes Scholars. Nonetheless, activities and events sponsored by the 
Trust reinforce expectations of public service and continue to socialize Rhodes Scholars 
into leadership circles. Presidents, prime ministers, and other world leaders visit Rhodes 
House and meet with current scholars. Queen Elizabeth has hosted receptions for current 
Rhodes Scholars at Buckingham Palace.  As one Scholar remembered: “Well, there were 
afternoon teas organized by the Warden and there were some prominent public leaders 
invited… But what was notable was that we were able to see these people and have 
informal conversations with these individuals in a variety of public and international 
issues.”   As with sailing week pre-departure activities, meetings with public figures 
reinforces Rhodes Scholars’ identity as future leaders and provides them with models of 
public achievement.  
Beyond the Rhodes Trust, Oxford itself was enormously influential.  Oxford’s 
select British and international student body, along with its rich history, collegiate system, 
tutorial pedagogy, and student self-governance all send the message that this is the 
training ground for elites. The Rhodes Scholarship “may help you to be a leader because it 
gives you a certain status and self-regard because you are essentially being trained with 
who’s going to be the leadership of the U.K”  said a 1980s Rhodes Scholar.  Another was 
asked where he heard the message that he was expected to fulfill the Rhodes obligation by 
7
 Until 1981,  Rhodes Scholars took part in a weekend of activities before sailing as a 
group to England.  New U.S. Rhodes Scholars now participate in a ‘sailing week’ of pre-
departure events and activities organized by the Rhodes Scholars alumni association 
before flying to the U.K.  
13


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