Dr Olivarius writes in Financial Times about changes to Rhodes Trust

Dr Olivarius was published in the Financial Timeswriting about the changes to the Rhodes Scholarship since its creation by Cecil Rhodes.

She noted, "this week’s launch of a global Rhodes scholarship, open to students from anywhere in the world, is as welcome as was last month’s appointment of the first female warden of Rhodes House, which administers the programme." 

To read the full article, click here.

Welcome to Carley-Jane Stanton (Prairies & St. Anne's 2016), the new Rhodes Project Profile Coordinator!

The Rhodes Project is thrilled to welcome its newest staff member, Carley-Jane Stanton (Prairies & St. Anne's 2016), who has joined the Project as Profile Coordinator. We asked Carley-Jane a few questions to get to know her and welcome her to the team. 

1. What has been the best part of your time at Oxford so far?

Oxford has been a whirlwind so far, but I'm absolutely loving the opportunity to have conversations with students from across disciplines, backgrounds, and the world. I was told it would be an intense experience that I wouldn't get anywhere else, and when I'm rushing from one public lecture to another, talking politics with a group of students from across the globe, I certainly see why! Of course, there are more mundane things I love about Oxford, too, like living in such a cycle-friendly city, the great coffee shops that let me sit and read for hours on end, and the new library at St. Anne's college!

2. What made you want to work with the Rhodes Project?

When I was presented with the opportunity to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship, I had apprehensions about the scholarship's legacy-- which certainly have not gone away-- and also whether I would find myself at home at Oxford and within the Rhodes community. I don't think I was alone, at least in the North American context, in having an internal image of a Rhodes Scholar that was predominantly white, male, and from an Ivy League university. When searching for scholars that didn't fit that image, I came across the Rhodes Project profile series, and was inspired and exhilarated by the stories of women from around the world and from such incredibly diverse backgrounds who have taken up the scholarship. 

Representation is important for magnifying the work women do in their professional spheres, as well as to inspire more young women to feel empowered to pursue paths that have traditionally not been the most welcoming for them, so I knew immediately that if I received the scholarship, I would want to help with the work being done at the Rhodes Project. Working here was such a central goal for my time at Oxford that I'd reached out to the Rhodes Project to get involved months before I landed in the UK! 

3. What book (or books) are you currently reading?

Since my interests cross multiple disciplines, I always have a number of books on the go! Right now I'm flipping through Talking Contemporary Curating by Terry Smith, Weeds by Richard Mabey and Citizen by Claudia Rankine. I've also been drawn toward graphic novels and comics lately, as I think they're an excellent way to take in design, stories, (and jokes!) without the time commitment of a novel. My favourites I've read recently are Exits by Daryl Seitchik and Wendy by Walter K. Scott. 

Beyond the Tyranny of Should. By Jennifer Robinson (Australia-at-Large & Balliol 2006) and Katharine Wilkinson (Tennessee & Trinity 2006)

This article first appeared in the recently published Rhodes book Fighting the World's Fights and was inspired by a talk at the 30th anniversary of Rhodes Women. It is being published here with permission from the authors and the Rhodes Trust. 


In 1977, twenty-four women arrived in Oxford as the first female Rhodes Scholars. In the spring of 2008, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of that event with a global, cross-generational gathering of Scholars at Rhodes House. For many of us in residence at the time, the highlight was a talk by Karen Stevenson (Maryland/DC & Magdalen 1979). In a space so often marked by efforts to impress, posture, upstage, Karen shared her own story with authenticity and vulnerability. She spoke openly about the taboo topic of coming unhinged at Oxford – and about finding a critical community of support amongst Rhodes women.

Over seven years later, many details of her talk have become hazy. But the feeling in the Beit Room that day remains palpable, as does Karen’s crystallization of an experience we, as Scholars, were watching unfold around us, if not encountering ourselves: “unhinging.” Unhinging is decidedly not included in scholarly criteria laid out in Cecil Rhodes’ will. It is decidedly not depicted in portraits adorning the walls of Milner Hall, nor is it catalogued in class letters. And how in the world can anyone coming unhinged “fight the world’s fight”? Yet, for many Scholars, it’s a defining element of the Rhodes experience and, as we have learned since, one of the most critical elements in discovering how we might each fight a good fight in our own way.

What is that unhinging all about? We can only speak with confidence about the stories we know well: our own and those of our close community of Rhodes women, specifically Jeni Whalen (Australia-at-Large & Balliol 2005) and Alex Conliffe (Quebec & Hertford 2004). So that’s our dataset, and we’ll use it to tease out the insights we’ve uncovered through explorations in and with that community – insights that are, necessarily, still emerging and far from definitive.

Let’s be honest, most Rhodes Scholars are really, truly excellent box-tickers. Throughout adolescence and as undergraduates, we diligently, passionately, meet and exceed the expectations of our elders and institutions – wowing teachers of all subjects, setting high water marks for our coaches and instructors, impressing anyone excited by excellence, amassing accolades and awards. Indeed, identifying and excelling at ticking boxes of “success” paves the way to the Rhodes.

We arrive at Oxford, then, having perfected the art of should, and often keenly attuned to the shoulds that can feel bound up with the Scholarship itself: to live up to the potential perceived in us, to pursue a path that befits a Rhodes Scholar, to “fight the world’s fight” in some terribly (and conventionally) impressive way. McKinsey. Google. Yale Law. Prestigious government jobs. Even as Scholars are transitioning to Oxford, they’re already wrestling with the transition beyond the dreaming spires. And deploying should against one another, assessing one another’s notions and choices, can become all too regular a pastime.

As Katharine described in The American Oxonian during our second year: “As we squeeze out of Oxford rich and wonderful experiences, we are haunted by anxiety about what comes afterwards. […] For a group of people who, in many ways, have gotten where they are by seeking to please and have received the constant confirmation that comes along with being a pleaser, the real challenge is being our own evaluators and finding our own sources of satisfaction.” It is no small task to discern a sense of direction and purpose in what Mary Oliver has called our one wild and precious life, and that challenge is only intensified when should looms so large. Too often it blurs our vision, rather than sharpening it, and hems us in, rather than fostering exploration of richer paths.

For our band of Rhodes women, our wrestling with Oxford-and-beyond came in waves – as did the unhinging that accompanied it. For Katharine, it started with transitioning out of an ill-suited MSc and into a deeply enriching DPhil, despite American academic mentors urging that she pursue a “real PhD” in the U.S. Jen, on the other hand, recalls that it started during the DPhil:

I came to Oxford as a lawyer with a passion for human rights and casework that effects tangible change. But after completing the BCL and MPhil, I found my clarity of professional direction muddied. “Of course you should do the DPhil!” people I respect and admire told me with conviction. The world’s top international law academic, my supervisor, assured funding. And the title of “Dr.” was alluring. As a Rhodes Scholar, why wouldn’t I go for the highest academic credential? Of course I should.

But it was a recipe for unhappiness – and then depression. Ultimately, I quit. People told me I shouldn’t “cop out,” I should just buckle down and do it. But after much reflection, I realized the true cop out was staying at Oxford and opting for the path of should. The alternative should of big, prominent law firms was safe and recommended. But I let myself be drawn by the truth of my passion to a small firm where I could do the work I love. And I went from languishing to thriving.

This change of course was hugely victorious for Jen – for her sense of aliveness and her ability to contribute to the world. It opened up a set of professional opportunities she could never have imagined. But while Jen’s work was hitting the front page of the New York Times, hidden behind the headlines was the group of confidants that enabled her to shed a debilitating should.

The four of us are now scattered across three continents and four countries, but somehow continue to gather, once or twice a year. Amidst cocktails and long meals and storytelling, continued exploration of our post-Oxford paths remains a central focus. We have all had our experiences of hitting a dead end of one kind or another – in consulting, in government, in academia – of finding ourselves in roles or ecosystems that we had chosen but ultimately found stunting or even soul crushing. We have all experienced our own unhinging, our confidence deeply knocked and a sense of ourselves as dreamers and doers thrown off kilter.

We have navigated unhinging with one another’s help and support. Our little community provides encouragement to counter the malaise we sometimes find ourselves in and creates space to dream anew. Perhaps most importantly, we remind each other of our authentic selves – the selves our dearest friends see with clarity – and reaffirm the value of being guided by authenticity, rather than the familiar pull of should. This ritual has created a powerful bond between us, and it’s also helped each of us find our way, and continually re-define it.

Katharine, for instance, took a leave of absence from strategy consulting to take an academic book on the road – a seeming detour that helped her realize the necessity of shifting to a professional space where big questions of why take precedence over what and how. Jen also recalls a second critical inflection point, with matters of authenticity at its core:

Just three years after leaving the DPhil behind and beginning legal practice, an unexpected opportunity arose: creating a global program to support emerging human rights lawyers. It would mean another significant rerouting – a very different role at a little-known foundation – and again mentors counseled me to stay put and stay the course. Feeling beaten down by the stress of my work, this should seemed both reasonable and appealingly straightforward.

But Alex, Jeni, and Katharine helped me re-evaluate again amidst new circumstances and to trust my instincts. With their support, I came to see that the law firm job that once excited and sustained me was now limiting, making me deeply unhappy. Beyond titles and conventional trajectories, I gained clarity about the content of this new role and its potential for impact on social justice – both profoundly aligned with who I am and what I believe. Why be one human rights lawyer when you can facilitate so many more?

Jen now spends her days with brave, like-minded young lawyers and their allies, supporting their bold and important work around the world. Much to her surprise, her greatest contribution to “fighting the world’s fight” has not been fighting cases herself, but creating opportunities for so many others to do so.

All four of us are on paths different to those we chose out of Oxford. The journey most definitely continues, but we feel more aligned with true north. We have found our way into roles and ecosystems that allow us to be our more authentic selves, play more to our strengths, and thus make more significant contributions. Getting to this place has had everything to do with the community of reflection and support we share.

For Karen Stevenson, for the four of us, and for so many others, the Rhodes experience sparks a lifelong journey – a journey of navigating away from should and towards authentic choices that allow our true selves to thrive and give. There is no obvious or clear answer on this journey and no path that will resolve the questions. Heeding Rilke’s advice, we can, instead, love the questions themselves, and live them. The Scholarship opens an incredible opportunity to embrace uncertainty, to take risks, to test, tumble, and try again, uncovering insights – often unexpected – along the way.

In this spirit, we reimagine “fighting the world’s fight.” Instead of a dictate – another should – to strive towards, quarrel with, or rebel from, what if we approach this call with a deep sense of curiosity? We might begin to see it as an invitation to explore the intersections where, in Frederick Buechner’s words, our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need – where we can bring the best of ourselves to bear on work that matters. We might begin to see it as a call to support one another in exploration and evolution, rather than a bar by which we can evaluate and should one another.  

Remembering that spring afternoon in the Beit Room, we share Karen’s deep appreciation for sustaining relationships among Rhodes women, especially when the road gets rocky. We also know now what we didn’t realize then: there is an unlikely beauty in the unhinging. It injects rich data into our continual process of learning and listening to the lives that want to be, of bringing who we are and what we do, our inner worlds and worldly work, into alignment. It’s amidst unhinging that we may hear the powerful inner call of must and move beyond the tyranny of should.

Feminist Reader: October 2016


After a brief hiatus, we are excited to bring back the Feminist Reader, a collection of the top stories in the news about gender, women, and feminism. Each month, the Rhodes Project publishes a selection of articles that approach issues of gender and feminism from informed, opinionated and novel angles.  Visit the Feminist Reader to find out about women’s responses to current challenges and catch up on gender-related news from around the world. If you have a piece you would like added to the Feminist Reader, contact Helen Caldwell at hcaldwell@rhodesproject.com

In the news:

Women who want to be doctors speak out about the sexual harassment they experience in their profession.

In American politics, Donald Trump made waves with his latest comments about how he views and treats women - and women responded with their own stories of sexual harassment and resilience.

We all know about the glass ceiling women experience in their careers - but what about the glass cliff? Might this be another barrier to women at the top?

Getting more women in startups may help increase the number of female CEOs in the future.

See this useful resource guide for gender bias in the academe, an annotated bibliography of recent studies.

Findings of a recent study suggest that UK girls and young women have experienced a decline in body confidence over the past five years.

This thoughtful piece explores the psychology of victim-blaming and considers how coverage of a story might increase the likelihood that victim-blaming will occur.

Women at the White House have developed a strategy to fight "manterrupting," ensuring that more of their female colleagues' voices are heard.

Report from Idaho Falls, Idaho: fiction writer Stephanie Reents (Mansfield College, 1992) reflects on her first job after Oxford

            At the end of my two years at Oxford, where I'd completed a second B.A. in English, I moved almost immediately to Idaho Falls, Idaho to work at a daily newspaper.   The Tetons rose up to the east.  Barley silos painted to resemble beer cans dotted farmland, even though most people abstained from alcohol for religious reasons.  To the west lay the Arco Desert, home to the first town in the world to be lit with electricity from a nuclear power plant.  To the north was Rigby where Philo Farnsworth came up with the concept for the vacuum tube (a revolution for television) when he was just a high school student.  Nearby Ashton boasted it was the seed potato capital of the world.  Tall silver-sided buses snaked through the town and the surrounding communities, carrying workers out to the Site, a vast high security complex for storing spent nuclear fuel and undertaking nuclear energy research.  People told me that Idaho Falls had the highest percentage of nuclear physicists of any place.  They also said the fastest way to get service in a restaurant was to light a cigarette and order a drink.  I have no evidence that either was true, but I like to believe both.

            What I can tell you is that moving to Idaho Falls from Oxford was a bit like entering the witness protection program.   Because all my street cred came from being a Boise native, this is what I talked up when I called school district superintendents to grill them about budgets and bond levies, bilingual education and school prayer.  I did not dare talk about Oxford for fear of appearing arrogant.  I didn't talk about literature because no one much cared.

            With the $320 a week I earned (plus whatever I got in mileage reimbursement for driving around eastern Idaho to cover stories) I rented a studio apartment a block from the train tracks.  Until I bought a futon, I slept on the floor.   I drove a second hand Subaru that I had purchased with a $2,000 loan from my parents.  I drank at Debbie's Brothers where $2 bought you a plastic cup and all the Budweiser you could guzzle between 5 and 6 p.m.

            I had worked at a newspaper only once before, during the previous summer, where I had the luxury of writing features.  Now that I was a beat reporter, I had to file stories on deadline.  This often meant arriving in the newsroom at 6 a.m. so I could craft articles on school board meetings that I had attended the night before.  A painfully slow writer with no grasp of the basics of journalism, I couldn't tell a lede from a lead.  I knew what a pyramid was, but an inverted pyramid?  And what did this have to do with journalism? It took me months to stop putting two spaces after periods and remember to write out the numbers one through ten.  My articles never appeared on the bulletin board where the managing editor hung the pieces she liked.  In fact, she told me once, I was frankly a disappointment.  I was a Rhodes Scholar after all.  Wasn't I supposed to wow her?

            Needless to say, this was a humbling time.  It was also excellent training for my vocation as a fiction writer.  After a life of overachieving, I learned that being average didn't have to diminish my pleasure in whatever I was trying to do or learn - nor did it change who I fundamentally was.  When I faced even more ego-bruising failure - when every graduate school in creative writing save one rejected me, or my first collection of stories made the rounds for months and never got published - I decided that my love of writing was more integral to my sense of self and well-being than my need for external approval (though, like most, I certainly appreciate validation).

            Writing fiction often feels like exploring a place you think you know, but don't.  The longer you stay, the stranger it becomes until finally - after countless days or months or years - the contours of the terrain start to become recognizable.  You draw yourself a map.  You plot a route through.  Then another.  The landmarks mean something.   Certain images and events from my reporting days still tug at me: the young man standing at the edge of a group of students huddled in prayer right before the graduation ceremony of a high school embroiled in a school prayer lawsuit; the girl at the Miss Idaho Beauty Pageant who told me her father was going to have a cataract when he saw her parade across the stage in her swimming suit, the lonely dirt roads that I ran in the foothills of the Tetons.  Right before I moved from Idaho Falls to New York City, someone left a beautiful Christmas fir on my front porch.  Whoever offered me this gift remains a mystery.

Can we celebrate all who identify as women on international women's day?

Drawing on the work of AH Devor, the world's first endowed chair in trans studies,  Annie Leibovitz's portraits of women, and the ways that expressions of masculinity and femininity are regulated, Susan Rudy considers what it means to identify as a woman in the twenty-first century. 



What is the meaning of gender equality in the twenty-first century? Executive Director of the Rhodes Project shares her views with readers of The New Statesman

Drawing on evidence collected by the Rhodes Project and on research led by Kate Blackmon at the University of Oxford, Susan Rudy reflects on what Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign can tell us about the meaning of gender equality in the twenty-first century. 


Good Lad Initiative seeks full-time chief executive officer

The Good Lad Initiative is a not-for-profit organisation based in Oxford. It promotes "positive masculinity" amongst men as a way of tackling complex gender situations. It does this, primarily, through running workshops, delivered by men for men. Utilising contemporary social intervention research, they speak to men as agents of positive change, rather than simply as potential perpetrators, and challenge them to change behaviours and attitudes within their own peer groups. This work is complemented by  ongoing consultation and engagement with women across the country

Founded in 2013, the Good Lad Initiative has grown exponentially, running over 70 workshops with approximately a 1000 participants in 2015, across 20 different school, university and civil society organisations. They have been featured in numerous media pieces  including Sky News, The Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, BBC television, BBC Radio and Die Zeit. They are asked to speak and consult with a number of high profile public policy fora.

The Board of Directors is looking for a CEO, of any gender, with the energy, ambition, vision and leadership to scale GLI into a high profile national organisation, ready to expand internationally. Remuneration is expected to be between £26,000-30,000 per annum for the first year, to be revised as the organisation grows.

Check out http://www.goodladworkshop.com for information. For position descriptions click here. 

2015 Highlights from the Rhodes Project

In 2015, staff at the Rhodes Project contributed to all aspects of our mission. We are proud to report on three highlights.

First portrait of a woman Rhodes Scholar commissioned for Rhodes House
This December, the Rhodes Project witnessed the unveiling of the first portrait of a woman Rhodes Scholar to hang in Milner Hall at Rhodes House in Oxford. Commissioned by the Rhodes Project in collaboration with the Rhodes Trust, the portrait of Lucy Banda Sichone was created by Rhodes Scholar Deirdre Saunder.

Left to right: Ann Olivarius (Chair of the Rhodes Project and a donor to the portrait project); Kabeleka Kabeleka and Karen Mumba (Members of the Black Rhodes Scholars Association); Susan Rudy (Executive Director of the Rhodes Project); Deirdre Saunder (a Rhodes Scholar and the artist who created the portrait); and Tony Abrahams (a Rhodes Scholar and donor to the portrait project).

Left to right: Ann Olivarius (Chair of the Rhodes Project and a donor to the portrait project); Kabeleka Kabeleka and Karen Mumba (Members of the Black Rhodes Scholars Association); Susan Rudy (Executive Director of the Rhodes Project); Deirdre Saunder (a Rhodes Scholar and the artist who created the portrait); and Tony Abrahams (a Rhodes Scholar and donor to the portrait project).

Research paper completed on how LGBT individuals negotiate work-life balance
Also in December, Oxford researchers Kate Blackmon and Susan Rudy completed a paper entitled “Dual-career, dual-carer couples: Learning from how LGBT individuals negotiate work-life balance” based on evidence collected by the Rhodes Project. The paper is under consideration for publication in the Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences.

Director of the Rhodes Project on winning team at Oxford Union Debate
In November, the Executive Director of the Rhodes Project, Susan Rudy participated in a debate at the infamous Oxford Union. She and her team successfully argued that feminism does not need to be rebranded during a debate that was one of the highlights of the Said Business School’s annual Power Shift conference, focussed this year on women and markets.

Since 2004, the Rhodes Project has been housed by and made possible through the support of McAllister Olivarius.  A registered charity in England and Wales, the mission of the Rhodes Project is to:
advance the education of the public in general on the subject of female achievement and/or the obstacles thereto and to promote research in all aspects of these subjects and to publish useful result;
promote gender equality for the public benefit by advancing education and raising awareness of gender issues. 








Women matter, Black women matter, they belong in this community: the commissioning of a portrait for Rhodes House

Lucy banda Sichone.  Photo CREDIT:  Martha Sichone

Lucy banda Sichone.  Photo CREDIT:  Martha Sichone

By Kelsey Murrell (Kansas & St Cross, 2012), Deputy Director, The Rhodes Project

Just over a week ago, the 2016 American Rhodes Scholars were selected.  Every year, as finalists prepare for their interviews, I reflect on the weekend that changed my life irrevocably four years ago.  I remember that I had brought a book with me to the interviews that weekend, a book that for me represented the power of literature to create empathy and to move others to action, a book in which my mentor had hidden a note for me to find at the interview.  I remember discovering the talent and goodness in another finalist and thinking, ‘I don’t even care if I win as long as this person does’.  That person was Kate Niehaus (South Carolina & Trinity, 2012).  I remember that when they announced who had won, I didn’t hear my name even though they said it first.  They called Kate’s name second.  She was standing next to me.  I turned to hug her and said “Congratulations.”  It wasn’t until, still embracing each other, she said, “You too!” that I realized I had also won.

Since that weekend four years ago, the weekend I didn’t hear my name called because it was just too implausible to me that I had been selected to join this group of people, the Rhodes Scholarship has become a part of who I am, a part of my identity.  Not everyone feels a strong connection to the Rhodes Community.  For some, not belonging may be a choice, but for others it is because they have been shut out.  Some of us occupy an in-between space in which the Rhodes is an important part of our identity but we are told over and over again that we are not truly a part of it.  Perhaps they have not been overtly told, “they do not belong.”  But there are signs, symbols, subtleties. 

One need only consider the recent vandalism of the portraits of black professors at Harvard Law School or the Rhodes Must Fall campaign in Oxford (and globally) to know that symbols matter.  Portraits and statues are not just decoration or history, they are symbols of what a community values and stands for. 

This is why it has meant a great deal to me to be involved in the Rhodes Project and the Rhodes Trust’s commission of the first portrait of a woman Rhodes Scholar to hang Milner Hall in Rhodes House.  During my time as a scholar in residence, I often found myself in Milner Hall. It is where I was officially welcomed to Oxford by the Rhodes Trust.  It is where I had my “Coming Up” dinner and where I attended my first ball.  It is where I attended many lectures, had Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners when I wasn’t able to fly home, and where I socialized and built community.  Looking around Milner hall, I saw Bill Clinton, Alfred Milner, Nelson Mandela,and Wilder Penfield, among others, looking back at me.  I saw only (mostly white) men.  The view will change on December 11th, 2015 when the Rhodes Project and the Rhodes Trust unveil a portrait of Lucy Banda Sichone (Zambia & Somerville, 1978), the first female Zambian Rhodes Scholar, a lawyer, activist, and journalist.  The artist is a Rhodes Scholar in Lucy’s class, Deirdre Saunder (Rhodesia & Somerville, 1978).  Three Rhodes Scholars have come together to support its commission:  Dr. Ann Olivarius (Connecticut & Somerville 1978), Charles Conn (Massachusetts & Balliol 1983), and Tony Abrahams (Australia-at-large & Balliol 1998).

It was less than 40 years ago that women were first elected as Rhodes Scholars.  We know from data collected by the Rhodes Project that the first generation of women Scholars are still not equal.  Sadly, we know from discussion groups and profile interviews we have conducted with recent scholars that women at Oxford still face many of the same barriers women struggled with 40 years ago, from being talked over, not called on, left out of meetings or important social events, harassed by fellow students or supervisors, to experiencing physical violence and rape.  In the face of structural inequalities, violence against women globally, and even the kind of hatred and injustice that leads to violence like the recent attacks in Paris, perhaps it seems insignificant to hang a new portrait. 

It is just a small change in one building in one city.  But symbols are powerful.  Portraits symbolize what we value and celebrate.  What untold effect could this portrait have on future generations of scholars and the work they go on to do in the world?  My hope is that it sends a message to all who step into Rhodes House that women matter, Black women matter,they belong in this community.  I hope it says that the kind of advocacy and social justice work that Lucy Banda Sichone devoted her life to matters and that we do not merely celebrate wealth or fame.

Janet Hoskins, an anthropologist, writes about the dialectical relationship between people and objects.  She states that objects, such as works of art, can be said to have “instrumentality” because they can stimulate an emotional response and are invested with the intentionality of the object’s creator.  Every time I return to Rhodes House throughout my life for conferences, alumni events and reunions, I will look up at the portrait of Lucy Banda Sichone.I will think of all that she stood for and all that this portrait symbolizes and I will carry that with me. 

Advancing women: how business skills can help us manage the tension between work & home. By Christie Hunter Arscott (Bermuda & Keble/Lincoln 2007)

The Juxtaposition of Work & Home – Is it Hurting us or Helping us?

The recent release of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book Unfinished Business has filled headlines with topics related to work, family, women and men. Bloomberg speculates that Slaughter’s book may “upend Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In as the reigning work-life balance manual”. Already an Amazon number one best seller, the book and its popularity highlight our ongoing public fascination with the discussion of work and home. Neither the topics nor the attention they receive are new. Debates and advice columns on work-life challenges have remained in the forefront of research and media headlines since the 1960s. A recent Forbes article highlighted that the phrase ‘work-life balance’ is Googled an average of 50,000 times per month.  

When it comes to advice on how to effectively seek out this illusive concept of balance, many articles focus on how we can better separate the two spheres of our lives. Another recent article, in the Globe & Mail, focused on “thirteen tips for separating your personal and professional life”. Similarly, New York Times best selling author, Dr. Martha Beck, advised women to “build a barrier between the way you make your living and the way you live”.

In contrast to the focus on separating ‘work’ and ‘life’, I believe that the division between our professional and personal realms may be hurting us more than it is helping us. What if a critical component to advancing women is contrary to popular advice? What if we need to break down the barriers between the ways in which we ‘make a living’ and the ways in which we ‘live’?

The Story of Two Worlds

Throughout my academic and professional career, I have had the privilege of working with and researching hundreds of women. I have gained this exposure as a Rhodes Scholar at The University of Oxford, in my Diversity & Inclusion role with Deloitte Consulting, and more recently in my independent practice as a strategic advisor focusing on advancing the next generation of women leaders. As I aggregate years of research and first-hand experience, I have uncovered a concerning trend: there are glaring differences in the skill sets that women use to manage their professional arenas and their personal lives.

One frequently reoccurring example is ‘dating’. I have seen many driven women proactively pursue the research topics, business ideas, publications, awards and careers of their dreams. In contrast, I have observed these same women passively wait for a man to approach them at a bar or call them first rather than pursuing what they desire with the same energy and confidence that colours the professional area of their lives. Even with the emergence of online dating, the same fervour that was the foundation of their academic and career success was noticeably absent in their personal lives. Why were we proactively pursuing the career of our dreams yet acting as passive objects in our personal pursuit of companionship?

At the time I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The issues at hand were far deeper and more widespread than dating alone. I have observed many high-flying women acquire capabilities, tools and frameworks to excel in their careers yet not apply these to the effective management of many different aspects of their personal lives.

Why don’t we readily apply skill sets acquired in one realm to others?

The Solution: Using Professional Skills to Enhance the Personal Realm

Our lives do not need to exist in divided silos of professional and personal. Women who effectively apply skills across realms realize the synergies across two areas of life that are often put in juxtaposition. Career and personal lives suddenly feel less in conflict and more complimentary. More importantly, these women express being less overwhelmed and more fulfilled. Gains in one realm do not necessarily equate to losses in the other. Instead, the skill sets and capabilities acquired in one can be advantageous to the other.

The good news: If the skills needed for career advancement are also the skills required for a fulfilling personal life, we can all achieve two-way wins by using our capabilities across realms.

Time to Talk About Transferable Skills

Transferable skill sets are often spoken of in today’s marketplace in relation to job mobility. We now have the opportunity to identify transferable skills in relation to our professional and personal realms.

How can we apply our professional skill sets in the management of our personal lives?

Here are a few examples of how to put this into practice:

1. Define Objectives & Create a Plan to Achieve Them

At one time or another, most of us have fallen into the trap between aspiration and execution. We want to prioritize an area of our life but fail to execute on it. One professionally strong, driven and action-orientated woman told me she was ready to settle down and find a partner but had not gone on a date in 6 months. I would not have seen that same woman articulate a desire to get fit but then not workout for 6 months. I would not have seen that same woman want a career promotion but then not show up for work. While she managed her career in a goal-orientated way, her personal life was falling behind.

By contrast, while working with Deloitte, I was deeply inspired by a self-proclaimed introverted bookworm with a desire to find a companion. As any Consultant would do on a client project, she defined an objective and made a plan to execute. She shared her detailed PowerPoint plan with our extended team – it included a roadmap with key milestones and objectives for each week. From going on two dates per week, to hiring a photographer for professional photos for dating websites, to buying an outfit for her shoot, to improving her online profile, to joining new interest-based groups – each activity was clearly mapped out and timed. By sharing her implementation plan with the group, she built accountability for her actions. She executed on her personal priorities using the skill sets she used to manage her work and client engagements.

We can learn from her action steps: Define a personal objective. Make an action plan. Build accountability for executing on the plan.

2. Understand Expectations

The success of organizations hinges largely upon their understanding of the needs of their primary stakeholders both internally and externally. Leaders seek to understand these expectations in a structured way, such as stakeholder assessments, customer needs assessments and talent surveys. Despite the fact that understanding expectations is core to success in the professional sphere, many of us don’t apply these skill sets to our personal lives.

In her book ‘Take the Lead’, Betsy Myers speaks about clearly communicating expectations as a core component of leadership in all realms: “Clarity is just as important in personal relationships as it is in business. It is easy to make assumptions about other people’s expectations, about what matters to them or what makes them feel appreciated – but again, assumptions can often be wrong. The only reliable way to gain that clarity is to ask.”

So how do we go about doing this? Stew Friedman, author of ‘Total Leadership’, suggests that we engage in stakeholder dialogues to verify existing expectations, to change existing expectations (where appropriate) and to explore how expectations might be met in new ways. Create a list of your primary stakeholders, your inner circle of relationships, including friends and family. Set up time for a structured dialogue with each of them, focusing on what you believe they desire from you, what they actually desire from you, and what you desire from them. According to Friedman the goal is to verify and, if necessary, correct your perceptions of expectations. If you are generating stress and conflict in your life by trying to have dinner with your partner or children every evening, when really what is important to them is quality time on the weekend (when you are less likely to be multi-tasking and exhausted), then you can tweak your approach. A stakeholder assessment both at work and at home allows us to understand expectations and effectively manage to those expectations by investing in the activities that mean the most and generate the most value for our stakeholders. We invest our time for maximum impact and maximum return, rather than investing in things that do not matter to the people we care about.

3. Negotiate

The vast majority of women that I have seen struggling with work and life conflicts want to think through how they can negotiate for a better arrangement at work – reduced workload or hours, more flexibility, virtual work …etc However, one part of the equation that is often missing is how they can better negotiate their role outside of work. With women still shouldering the majority of caregiving and housework, the probability that we will feel conflict between our professional and personal lives is high. Why only address one side of the equation? Why not put our negotiation techniques to work in our homes - to have in-depth discussions around roles, division of responsibilities, and time allocation?

In our recent ICEDR research on millennial women, Lauren Noel and I highlighted a program at BlackRock titled ‘Art of the Ask’. Many of their action steps are applicable to the asks that an individual wants to make, whether it be within the work environment or outside of it: Focus on developing your ask plan; Discuss your ask with a trusted advisor or friend to get feedback; Hone in on how to craft a persuasive message, as how you communicate your ask is equally important as the ask itself. Having a deep understanding of the expectations and desires of the stakeholder you are negotiating with – parent, child, partner or other – will lay the foundation for effective communication and exploration of areas of shared interest and how you can better manage your time and energy within the personal realm.  Women who have gone through the ‘Art of the Ask’ program have reported increased effectiveness of their asks at BlackRock and according to BlackRock leadership, “they are also advocating for themselves at home”.

The Way Forward

There is no shortage of research showing that personally fulfilled individuals are more likely to create meaningful impact within their organizations and communities.

As we seek to further advance women in the professional realm, let us encourage one another to explore how the skill sets we are acquiring in our careers can be applied in our personal lives. Time to stop separating how we ‘make a living’ and how we ‘live’. Time to break down the silos, realize the synergies across areas of our lives and reap the benefits of two-way wins. It is time to consider what professional skill sets we can apply to our personal lives.

Christie Hunter Arscott is an internationally recognized gender and generations strategist, specializing in advancement strategies for women leaders. Her clients include Fortune 100 companies, Big 4 professional services firms, national government entities, leading talent research bodies and Ivy League institutions across North America, South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. Christie’s research and writing have been featured by the World Economic Forum, London Business School Review, Huffington Post, Forbes, Diversity Executive, Director Magazine, Thinkers50, Bersin by Deloitte, and the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR). Christie is a Rhodes Scholar and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. Join the conversation at @CHunterArscott and ChristieHunterArscott.com


“Who do they think I am?” The Rhodes Project speaks with leading female surgeon Jyoti Shah about women’s resilience

On BBC Radio’s Today program earlier this fall, Dr Jyoti Shah spoke about the “hostile environment for women” in operating theatres. She also called for cultural change in the industry.  In the interview below, Rhodes Project Executive Director, Dr Susan Rudy, speaks with Dr Shah about women’s resilience in the face of hostile personal and professional environments. 

Jyoti Shah (right) and Susan Rudy (left) at Friends House,     London, 6 November 2015. Photo Credit:  Paresh Solanki

Jyoti Shah (right) and Susan Rudy (left) at Friends House, London, 6 November 2015. Photo Credit:  Paresh Solanki

Susan Rudy:   On BBC Radio’s Today program earlier this fall, you spoke about the “hostile environment for women” in operating theatres and called for cultural change in the industry. Could you tell us more about what you have experienced and the effects on women of sexist treatment?

Jyoti Shah:  When I first started out 15 years ago, only 6% of consultant surgeons were female. It is still only about 8.6% for my own specialty.  Overall, the figures at consultant level for surgeons are now 10.5 % and although an improvement, that is still not acceptable. At medical school, over 50 % of those entering the profession are female.  The surgical profession is still dominated by male stereotypes. For example, I can operate on a patient, see them every day after, and be the one who tells them when they can go home. But the patient will still say “So when’s the doctor coming to see me?” and “What did they do?” This is because they expect the surgeon to be male. It’s these preconceived notions that we still need to break down.

Susan Rudy:  Who do they think you are?

Jyoti Shah: That is an interesting question.  Who do they think I am?  The British Medical Association ran an online forum called Shit People Say to Women Doctors to which I contributed a piece. Through my reflections for that article, I realised that there has been no study in this country of how prevalent sexism is amongst women doctors. As a result, a colleague and I put together a questionnaire, which we sent out to members of the Medical Women’s Federation. I think the results will be interesting and just reading the comments are fascinating.  Because of that blog, the BBC’s Today program wanted to interview me about gender discrimination facing female surgeons. 

Susan Rudy:  Can you tell us a bit more about your background?  When were you born?  What did your parents do?

Jyoti Shah:  I was born in 1971 and am the oldest child in a traditional Indian family. I have a younger sister and brother. My father was a bus conductor in London in the open bus days and my mother was pretty much a housewife.  Once we all went to school she started working part time at a supermarket. I come from a working class family and I went to a comprehensive school.  From age eight, I wanted to be a doctor. No one in my family had ever been a doctor. 

Susan Rudy:  Tell me more about your family and its effect on you. 

Jyoti Shah:   My family and the community discouraged me from being a doctor because of the long training and long hours, which were not compatible with the expected role of an Indian woman at the time. When would I get married and have babies?  If I did not get married and do the expected thing, what would happen to my younger siblings? That was the traditional view and that was my first hurdle. I was even more determined to fulfil my dream when the community discouraged me from following a medical career.

Susan Rudy:  Do you remember feeling discouraged?

Jyoti Shah:  Yes, absolutely.  My school told me, “nobody has ever gone to medical school from here, Jyoti, so forget it.” I still remember thinking, however, that if I didn’t try I would never know whether I would succeed.  

Susan Rudy:  Did anyone help you?

Jyoti Shah:  Not in those days because there was no one to help me. My school discouraged me and my family did not know how universities worked in Britain. My parents had come to England from India in the early 1960s. But I still said, “dad, I want to be a doctor.” 

Susan Rudy:  And you went to medical school in London?

Jyoti Shah:  Yes. I did succeed in getting a place at Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School at a time when educational grants were available. I only moved out of London eight years ago when my circumstances changed.

Susan Rudy:  How did you survive your student life?

Jyoti Shah:  I got a job! 

Susan Rudy:  What did you do?

Jyoti Shah:  I worked at the medical school library for £5 an hour. I put books back on the shelves from 5:00 until 8:00 pm, Monday to Friday, and from 9:00 am until 12:00 pm every Saturday.  In the pre-clinical years, I worked during the summer breaks. In my first year, I got a job as an usher in a cinema at Leicester Square and within a year was promoted to popcorn lady. My rent was £25 a week and my earning was enough to get me through. During my last three years at medical school, I was a warden in the halls of residence, which meant I could live rent-free. I actually came out of medical school with some money in the bank! That is how I got through medical school.

Susan Rudy:  Could you tell me a bit more about the cultural issues you faced?

Jyoti Shah:  Yes. I was born and brought up in this country and lived a western life but ultimately my roots are traditionally Indian and it was expected that I would be married and I did get married while I was still at medical school.

Susan Rudy:  How old were you when you married?

Jyoti Shah:  Goodness. I was 22 or 23 and I married someone who ‘fit the bill’ so to say. 

Susan Rudy:  Is this the man I met earlier today, who took our photograph? 

Jyoti Shah:  No, that was my second husband. Unfortunately, my first husband was physically violent. It was a physically and mentally torturous relationship. 

Susan Rudy:  That is dreadful.  Obviously, your parents would not have wanted that for you either.

Jyoti Shah:  No. But they did not know what he was like.  He seemed to be a handsome and successful lawyer with the gift of the gab. In those days (mid-1990s), people would say “Jyoti, what did you do for him to beat you?” I did get divorced but that was quite difficult for everybody. Culturally it was a very stressful and difficult time for me and my family who supported me throughout.

Susan Rudy:  Did you have children?

Jyoti Shah:  No. I was only married for only a year but it was still seen as a shame on the family and community. It took my self -confidence to the lowest point ever. The violence emerged very quickly in our marriage – a regular cycle that occurred every few days. I remember one episode where he had thrown a plate of food on the floor and of course I got a bit upset and I said, “you’ve made a mess on the floor; why did you do that?”  He threw me on the floor and grabbed my hair – I had much longer hair than I do now – and shouted, “You want to eat?  Eat it.” He tried to force me to eat off the floor.

Susan Rudy:  I am so sorry.

Jyoti Shah:  Women go through this even now, don’t they?  For me that was a particularly low point. 

Susan Rudy:  Did you charge him?

Jyoti Shah:  Yes. I phoned the police. In those days, domestic violence was not taken seriously. I remember that one time the police came and he managed to talk himself out of it so I was made to look the fool. It was not until I was hospitalised for three days that I finally had the courage to say that I was not going back to him. The Domestic Violence Unit came to see me in the hospital and insisted that I needed to get an injunction against him. My parents didn’t have a clue because they didn’t know what was going on, so it was a whirlwind for everyone.  It was so alien to everybody.  Where do you go? What do you do? I take the view that God gives you strength when you need it and that’s true resilience.  I think as women, we naturally just fight back when we are cornered. He was arrested but all he received was a fine and a criminal record for “common assault.” He tried to appeal because he was a lawyer.  Luckily, he didn’t win. Still he ignored the injunction.  He would be outside my window and say “Come out you bitch or I’ll set your house on fire.” Injunctions are just a piece of paper to such people. But it didn’t kill me and I survived. I managed to get through medical school and pass my exams.  It was a long time ago but I suppose the scars are always there.

Susan Rudy:  You have an extraordinary amount of resilience to have carried on in the way that you did.  Was this experience connected to the reasons why you became a surgeon?

Jyoti Shah:  Throughout medical school, you are exposed to lots of different specialties and through that exposure I realised that I didn’t just want to be a doctor.  I wanted to be a surgeon because I liked the discipline of making a difference. 

Susan Rudy:  How do surgeons make a difference?

Jyoti Shah:  All specialties make a difference in the sense that they make people better, but for me there is a quick and more tangible result. When someone comes in poorly and I operate on them, they are better. Here is a simple example.  A man comes in to the hospital who cannot pass urine and is in agony.  No amount of morphine is going to make them better until you put a catheter in and then they are better.  I then operate on them, and they no longer need the catheter. They are now peeing like a 20 year old even if they are 80!  These are the people who send me hand-written letters to say “Dear Ms Shah, thank you so much.” “You’ve given me back my joie de vive”. Every year I get around 70 hand written cards and letters from my patients, which is quite unusual and that’s what keeps me going.  I love it. 

For me, being a female surgeon is a definite strength.  When my male patients are sitting in front of me and they’re desperate to cry, I can put my hand out and I can give them a hug and this is something that my male colleagues can’t do that. So that’s, I suppose, how I became a urological surgeon and I love it. 

Susan Rudy:  Did you feel that, given the difficult experience you have had in your personal life, you have been wary of situations in which men might be badly behaved?

Jyoti Shah:   Yes. I spent a long time on my own after my marriage because I was extremely wary of men. Many of my patients are male because of their prostate problems. But yes, I have been wary of men. It has taken me a very long time. I only remarried eight years ago

Susan Rudy:  Tell me more about your husband.

Jyoti Shah:  He has an unusual background.  He earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Masters in criminology from Cambridge. Then he did postgraduate studies in broadcast journalism, as he wanted to use media as a life-enhancing tool for social development. He was a senior executive at the BBC and, more recently, a media specialist working for public organisations such as the Council of Europe and government-led projects.

Susan Rudy:  Where did you meet?

Jyoti Shah:  Through a mutual friend who said, “you can’t spend the rest of your life alone.”  By then I was already in my mid-30s.

Susan Rudy:  Do you have children? 

Jyoti Shah:  No. By the time Paresh and I met it was too late, I guess.

Susan Rudy:  Is he older than you?

Jyoti Shah:  He is a little bit older. I was in my late 30s and by the time we married and settled, it just didn’t happen and that was the price I paid for meeting him late in my life.

Susan Rudy:  Does it feel like that to you?

Jyoti Shah:  Yes. I would have loved to have children. But we don’t get everything we want in life. You’ve got to move on and say “that wasn’t meant to be. I am grateful for what I have. I’ve got to do other things.”  I have a wonderful nephew and niece who come and spend time with me.

Susan Rudy:   Can you tell me a bit more about your workplace context now?

Jyoti Shah:  I work in a district general hospital now. I also examine, teach, and have several editorial roles.  That has made a huge difference in my life. When I teach and when people are hungry to learn, both the trainees and teacher get inspired. That is what helps to create the next generation of high quality doctors.

Susan Rudy:  How do you manage all of these responsibilities?

Jyoti Shah:  Well, they are all different roles and I will just keep going as long as I am interested and I can make a difference. I have taken a pay cut to do more voluntary roles for the wider public good. As a principal, I do not do private practice because I do not want money to influence how I look after my patients; it is what I want to do. I just want to give back something for the greater good.

Susan Rudy:  Your work sounds extraordinarily important to you.

Jyoti Shah:   Yes. I take it very seriously because it involves people’s lives. My mum, my dad, your mum, your dad, someone we love. I have always said, I will do for you what I would do if you were my mother or father sitting in front of me - what would I want for them?

Susan Rudy:  How many hours a week do you think you work?

Jyoti Shah:  I have no idea but my day usually starts at about 6:00 am.  I do some of my daily chores early in the morning. For example, this morning I hoovered my house because my cleaner phoned in sick. Paresh thought I was completely insane but it had to be done,

At least five times a week in the morning I go to the gym as staying physically fit helps with my mental fitness. That’s my time.  I get home after 7.30 pm or most likely later followed by a quick supper and more work or chores. It is always a long day.

Susan Rudy:  And is your husband’s life as busy?

Jyoti Shah:  He is busy too, partly because he travels a lot and, working in the media, there are no set times. 

Susan Rudy:  Do you have women friends? 

Jyoti Shah:  Yes, that’s been quite key for me. My core group of friends are my school friends from when I was nine years old. We are like sisters. There are three of us and I gravitate toward them when there is really a problem. They are my trusted inner circle. At work there’s a core group of us who meet each other regularly for support. When in need, we call on each other anytime.  Supportive friends are, I think, essential for any woman in any walk of life. It stops the isolation. But the biggest and the most powerful support for me is Paresh at home. He is absolutely my rock.

Susan Rudy:  Can we speak a bit more about your appearance on the BBC Today program?  I was so moved by what you said and your unequivocal call for change. 

Jyoti Shah:  Yes, it needs to happen.

Susan Rudy:  In your view, what needs to happen? 

Jyoti Shah: There are gender disparities in many, many vocations. It is not just surgery.  But as a surgeon, I want to know why in 2015 we still have only 1 in 10 women at consultant level.  The problem I think is that, as women, we doubt ourselves, don’t we? I think that certain behaviour denigrates women and devalues us - particularly in the professional workplace. We end up losing our self-confidence and self-belief.

Susan Rudy:  Is your speaking out a form of resistance to treatment that denigrates you? 

Jyoti Shah:  I think women have to speak out. Otherwise, how is this situation going to change?  If we do not challenge it, we allow it, and it becomes normal and then it becomes ingrained in behaviour.  If you do something and get away with it, you will continue to do it. Opening up the discussion as we have done this year is a big step and I am now in a position where I can speak out. For instance, I have recently been asked to speak at an emerging leaders program for women at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Susan Rudy:  Did your decision to stand up to your abusive first husband have an effect on your decision to speak out now? 

Jyoti Shah:  I got divorced in 1995.  I did not speak up about my domestic violence background publicly.   Only my close friends knew about it. I am now able to say to people that domestic violence transcends boundaries.  It transcends vocations, professions, social classes.  It can happen to anyone.  What is important is to say that although it can happen to anyone, you can survive it. I did. If one woman is able to walk out of a violent relationship by hearing my story, I will have made a difference.

If someone wants to be a surgeon, and their mum, dad, community, school or anyone says “don’t be silly, you can’t be a surgeon,” I say, “oh yes you can.  Come and knock on my door, I’ll show you how.”  

Dr Jyoti Shah is a Consultant Urological Surgeon in the West Midlands. After graduating from Charing Cross & Westminster Medical School, she completed her postgraduate urological training in London before taking up a permanent consultant post in 2008 at Burton Hospital.  Dr Shah is also an academic and has published dozens of articles, book chapters and books.  She is Editor-in-Chief of Medical Woman, Commissioning Editor of the Annals & Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, a reviewer for 13 International journals, an examiner, a Royal College assessor for urology consultant interviews, a mentor and a teacher. Recent honours include the Chairman’s Award at the 2015 Asian Women of Achievement Awards.

Invitation to Rhodes Scholars from Australia, Canada and New Zealand elected 1977-1994: Contribute to the Rhodes Project's database

From the Register for Rhodes Scholars 1903-1995, compiled and published by Rhodes House, 1996.

From the Register for Rhodes Scholars 1903-1995, compiled and published by Rhodes House, 1996.

To establish a broad picture of the achievements of Rhodes Scholars over time, researchers at the Rhodes Project are preparing a unique, hand-collected database of information about male and female Rhodes Scholars elected between 1977 (when women first became eligible for the scholarship) and 1994. 

Our first and most significant resource for the database was Ralph Evans’ Register of Rhodes Scholars 1903-1995 (Oxford: Rhodes House, 1996). For Rhodes Scholars elected 1977-1994, we collected from this source the following information:

·       identity data (name, date of birth, Rhodes region, election year),

·       educational data (high school, university before Oxford, Oxford College and degrees, degrees after Oxford to 1995)

·       early career data (positions held to 1995)

·       early life data (the names of parents and their professions and occasionally the names of spouses to 1995).

Our second step was to track Scholars’ lives since 1995 and we did this by capturing post-graduate education, mid-career and mid-life data from the summer issues of The American Oxonian, which are organised as "occupations and addresses" special issues and list current profession and occasionally the names and professions of spouses.

Our third step was to capture additional data about Rhodes Scholars' personal and professional lives after Oxford from the class letters sections of The American Oxonian 1978 to the present.  Here we found information about spouses, the dates of birth of children, geographical moves and career trajectories. 

Unfortunately, only the data from the Register of Rhodes Scholars 1903-1995 represents the full geographical diversity of Rhodes Scholars’ histories and current lives. 

To fill this gap, we are beginning by collecting information about the lives and careers of Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian Rhodes Scholars after they left Oxford.

We therefore invite male and female Rhodes Scholars from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to contribute to our database of information by filling out our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TheRhodesProject.

Please feel to share widely!

An "Alternative" Annual Report from Rhodes Scholars

Last week, a group of Rhodes Scholars released a report they had compiled to honour an approach to “fighting the world’s fight” that is often less visible than traditionally celebrated forms of success or making a difference: working with God. Some scholars felt that donating wealth was becoming, if not the only work being recognized in the Rhodes community, than at least that which received the most public attention, particularly during the Rhodes Trust's recent fundraising efforts.

Jess Auerbach (South-Africa-at-large and St Antony’s 2009), gathered scholars who wanted to see a wider and more diverse recognition of good work. They chose a theme and began interviewing scholars who had taken a vow to “commit their lives to God, who explicitly saw their way of fighting the world’s fight as being shaped by or articulated through a religious conviction that was not only personal but vocational.” An excerpt from Auerbach’s explanatory note is published below.


You can access the full report here.   

Illustration by Paul Manning

Illustration by Paul Manning

 “I would like to acknowledge the school teachers amongst us who year after year commit their energies to ensuring the stability and continuity of citizens across the world” I wrote in my original email. “I would like us to appreciate those who are on the front-lines of the ebola outbreak, who are giving their all addressing the wrenching power of ISIS, who are trying to get back the missing Nigerian students, or to get justice for those who were assassinated in Mexico or are working to address the ever-stronger reach of climate change. Who was there at Ferguson? Who in our community is currently in prison for standing against injustice? Where are the nurses and the spiritual teachers and the small-business entrepreneurs? We know who gave money, but we do not know this, and it troubles me.”

The response was overwhelming: more than 120 people replied, expressing support and offering to contribute to the curation of a publication that did something to profile those in our community who commit themselves each day to the world’s fight for reasons that go deeper than remuneration. There is nothing wrong with wealth of course: but it is not the only thing that should get public recognition and attention in a community like ours. A long and thought-provoking conversation ensued across the internet, and in time we settled on a plan: I would shepherd the first “Alternative Report” into existence, and in future, if others wanted to take it on as a rolling project, it could continue. What you read now is the result - if and how it moves forward is up to you.

What it might mean to “fight the world’s fight” is a question with as many answers as Rhodes Scholars, both living and dead and still to be born. Nonetheless, we needed a focus, and it emerged that I was not the only one who remembered Kittisaro. His was also not the only name to be suggested in the field of religious work, and slowly a question appeared from amongst the collective: we would like to know about the Rhodes Scholars who have chosen to work with God. How to define “working with God” of course was an immediate challenge: hundreds of us feel we work with God in different ways all of the time, but a “who is the most humble/religious/observant” discussion would not have taken us very far. We therefore decided to limit the pool of enquiry into those who took a vow of some kind to commit their lives to God, who explicitly saw their way of fighting the world’s fight as being shaped by or articulated through a religious conviction that was not only personal but also vocational.

We tried very hard to find a representative sample of scholars, and succeeded only partially: this begs important questions that resonate with the #RhodesMustFall movement now coursing through South Africa’s tertiary education sector. All but one of those profiled are white, all but one (not the same one!) come from the global North, there is no Indian Rhodes Scholar in this group, no Barbadan, no Zambian, - and surely this is not because God figures less in these constituencies! Rather, now more than ever we are asked to think of how political economy shapes life choices, and shapes vocation. We are also forced to interrogate how the Internet links us unevenly: we could “find” those with digital footprints as never before, but we are aware that many members of our community choose not to plug in but quietly, and humbly, fight the world’s fight without seeking (and perhaps explicitly avoiding) any form of community recognition - or at least not from this community, Rhodes Scholars, whatever that might mean. Nonetheless, the pool from which we drew is such that even with a sample size of seven, we gain insight into the lifeworlds of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and we see how each of these faith traditions ask that the best in us be nurtured, to the betterment of all.

In the process of the interviews, we came to realize that God and Social Justice efforts writ large were never far apart from one another - and indeed, in every single case, inseparable. Given the particular expressions of the moment against structural inequality and violence, racism and the colonization of thought, fundamentalism of both religion and market forces, it seemed particularly important to give space ample space for reflections on social justice writ large, and it raises an important question as to the spirit - not the letter - of the scholarship. Through these profiles, we hope to give examples of ways that this spirit has been embodied through lifetimes of work, spiritual practice, and reflection, and we hope that they mark the beginning of a new kind of discussion that is closely aligned with the new spirit of our times.

Access the full report here.