Rebecca Brubaker ’06, Swat’s Fourth Female Rhodes

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Rebecca Brubaker is currently completing an Insight Fellowship in Morocco, so we reached her through e-mail. The Gazette would like to congratulate both of these amazing Swatties.

DG: When did you first think about applying for the Rhodes?

RB: Ever since I was a little girl I remember people linking the term “Rhodes Scholar” to important thinkers and leaders throughout society. The only problem was that all those I remember hearing about were male. Thus since childhood, there was a certain mystique about the scholarship – making it an ultimate personal challenge to try one day to stand amongst those – but as a woman.

I lost sight of this goal as my school and college years filled up with other rich and incredibly fulfilling experiences – until last year. I was conducting research in Cyprus and met a lot of individuals who had studied both in the UK and specifically at Oxford. I was interested in issues of migration, integration, and conflicts around identity in Europe. They helped me realize that I would be missing a large part of the picture if I tried to study these issues from America alone. Plus these colleagues confirmed the fact that the Honors system I had just been through at Swarthmore was true to the Oxford model. After a couple months of recovery from Swat’s Honors program I was ready to dive back-in and try the model that inspired it.

I feel like my dream made full circle when Melissa [of the Fellowships and Prizes Office] informed me when I called to give her the news that according to her records, I was the first female to represent Swarthmore. That, I think, more than the scholarship itself, made me feel incredibly proud.

DG: Tell me a little bit about the process of applying. What was the hardest part? How did Swat support you?

RB: The process was ridiculous – but quite a story looking back. I decided to apply my last week before taking off on a 9 month fellowship [the Fulbright] outside the country. So I was drafting the essay in between getting vaccinations for yellow fever, buying iodine tablets, frantically packing bags, and saying goodbyes. This is the last year that I qualify (by age cutoff) to apply so the pressure was on. Five valiant Swarthmore community members also agreed to write recommendations under these same time pressures.

Then came the news of the Swarthmore interview – when I was setting up a work assignment in Istanbul. Electricity went out in our neighborhood a few days before the interview call so there was no way for the Swarthmore interview committee to call me by land line. A Turkish friend offered to lend me a cell phone so that I could call the committee. In the end, the interview took place in the middle of a busy square with the sound of the Call to Prayer and street vendors shouting in the background.

But the process wasn’t over – I still had to mail the application. The deadline fell while I was in Aleppo, Syria visiting another former Swattie roommate. It was during Ramadan and most air delivery services were closed. My host walked for hours around with me in the stifling Aleppo heat (both of us fully covered in sweltering, conservative, place appropriate attire) trying to find any way to mail the application.

Finally, in an act of faith, I mailed it from a dusty corner stand with a FedEx sign outside.

When the news finally arrived of the finalist interviews I was co-conducting a training for work in Croatia. I was given 4 days to arrange the trip home – arriving only one full day before the interview. Swarthmore professors and staff had been supporting me throughout the process. For the final stretch, however, they rallied to an incredible level. One professor offered me a place to stay, a series of others offered to sit on a mock interview committee, President Bloom volunteered to counsel me, and the Dean’s Office generously contributed to help with travel. Melissa Mandos, of the Fellowships and Prizes Office, orchestrated and managed it all.

I guess in a very literal sense it took a village to make this possible.

DG: What have you been doing since graduating?

RB: I spent the year after graduation working through a Fulbright on conflict resolution efforts in Cyprus between displaced Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. This fueled my interest in identity issues on the borderlands of Europe. I became fascinated by questions such as, what makes a place or a people European? Who can join this club or must you be born into it? What are the consequences of exclusion?

DG: What do you plan on studying at Oxford, and why?

RB: I want to work in revising and developing immigration policies and integration protocols in both the U.S. and Europe. Oxford’s intellectual environment as well as its geographic and political location will help propel me towards this goal of serving a broader base of communities in this endeavor.

[I will be studying] migration, resettlement, and integration in Europe and along its borders, and conducting research through Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society. They conduct fascinating work including comparative studies on immigrant support and integration initiatives across Europe.

DG: Anything else you’d like to say?

RB: I encourage other Swatties to strongly consider applying if only for college pride. There are many ways to put Swarthmore on the map. I am endorsing this one, however, because while reading the Rhodes Scholarship statistics from last year, I found it distressing that there were more scholars accepted from Harvard than from all public universities combined and no scholars accepted from small liberal arts schools. Given the parallels between our honors system and Oxford’s tutorial system it should seem like an even more natural fit for some of you. Please feel free to be in contact if any of you are interested. I would be happy to help in whatever way I can.

DG: Thank you, and congratulations on the honor!

This article originally claimed that Brubaker was Swarthmore’s first female Rhodes scholar. Happily for Swarthmore, this is not the case. Fellowships and Prizes Advisor Melissa Mandos informed us that there have actually been four since the Rhodes began accepting women in 1977:

Jane Elizabeth Stromseth ’78 (Economics major)
Melissa Ward Burch ’81 (Biology)
Janice Hudgings ’91 (Engineering/Mathematics)
Rebecca A. Brubaker ’06 (Political Science)

The Gazette apologizes for the error.


  1. Rich Slattery ‘80 informs us that happily, Brubaker is not Swarthmore’s first female Rhodes Scholar:

    “Given Swarthmore’s leadership role in the education of women, it would be very disappointing if, until your selection, no woman who graduated from Swarthmore had been selected as a Rhodes scholar.

    Happily, that is not the case. Two women who attended Swarthmore with me – Jane Stromseth ’78 and Melissa Burch ’81 – were among the first female Rhodes scholars after women became eligible in 1977. The chapter on women Rhodes scholars in “Rhodes Scholars, Oxford and the Creation of an American Elite” (excerpted on Google Book Search) indicates that Janice Hudgings ’91 was also a Rhodes scholar. I am sure that they all share my pleasure at your selection.”

    Thanks, Rich, for letting us know!

  2. Thanks for your lovely Q&A with Rebecca. I would like to help set the record straight by informing readers that Rebecca is in fact the fourth woman from Swarthmore to receive the Rhodes Scholarship. The total number of Swatties who have received the honor is 28.

    Here is a complete list of Swarthmore’s female Rhodes Scholars:

    Jane Elizabeth Stromseth ’78 (Economics major)
    Melissa Ward Burch ’81 (Biology)
    Janice Hudgings ’91 (Engineering/Mathematics)
    Rebecca A. Brubaker ’06 (Political Science)

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