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Oak Lawn woman named Rhodes Scholar

RhianGunn-Wright

Rhiana Gunn-Wright

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Updated: December 20, 2012 6:31AM



An Oak Lawn woman who says she wants to make social welfare policies in the United States more effective and humane is one of two people from Illinois named Rhodes Scholars on Sunday.

Yale University graduate Rhiana Gunn-Wright, of Oak Lawn, and Harvard University senior Benjamin Wilcox, of Winnetka, were among 32 American students inducted Sunday into the program.

The prestigious award provides all expenses for up to four years of study at Oxford University in England. The winners were selected from 838 applicants endorsed by 302 different colleges and universities. The scholars will enter Oxford in October. Winners are selected based on academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor, among other attributes.

“It’s an incredible honor and blessing,” 23-year-old Gunn-Wright said.

She graduated last year from Yale with majors in African-American studies and women’s gender and sexuality studies, is interested in helping change social welfare policy. She works at the Institute of Women’s Policy Research in Washington, where her research deals with poverty’s effect on the ability to get a college education.

“I don’t think that our social welfare system has a vision,” she said. “My vision is for a welfare system that takes into account the complex issues that lead to poverty and treats people humanely in their times of need without judging them or punishing them for their poverty.”

Before moving to Oak Lawn, Gunn-Wright was a longtime resident of Chicago’s Englewood community.

“I’ve known people on welfare. My mother had a really difficult pregnancy with me, so she had to stop working and she was on welfare briefly,” she said. “These women have so many different paths into it and are treated so poorly.”

Education always was stressed in Gunn-Wright’s home as a pathway success.

“My mother let me know from a very young age that education was the most important thing,” she said.

Wilcox, the other Illinois Rhodes Scholar, is majoring in history. His senior thesis relates to race and Brazilian history and He plans to pursue Latin American studies at Oxford. He has also traveled 10,000 miles on self-suspended cycling trips across North American and Europe.

Both students will join an international group of scholars.

Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes and have a value of about $50,000 per year.



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