Four Yale women win coveted Rhodes Scholarships

Lillian Moore-Eissenberg ’20, Christina Pao ’20, Laura Plata ’19, and Liana Wang ’20 are among 32 Americans who will study at Oxford as Rhodes Scholars.
Lillian Moore-Eissenberg ’20, Christina Pao ’20, Laura Plata ’19, and Liana Wang ’20

Left to right: Lillian Moore-Eissenberg ’20, Christina Pao ’20, Laura Plata ’19, and Liana Wang ’20

It’s entirely coincidental, but in a year when the university is celebrating the legacies of its women students as part of 50WomenAtYale150, this year’s Yale winners of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship who are from the United States — four in all — are women.

Lillian Moore-Eissenberg ’20, Christina Pao ’20, Laura Plata ’19, and Liana Wang ’20 are among 32 Americans chosen as Rhodes Scholars. The highly competitive scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England, and may allow funding in some instances for four years. Last week, YaleNews announced that Marwan Safar Jalani ’20 won a Rhodes Scholarship for the Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine region.

This year’s American Rhodes Scholars — independently elected by 16 committees around the country meeting simultaneously — once again reflect the extraordinary diversity that characterizes and strengthens the United States,” said Elliot F. Gerson, the American secretary of the Rhodes Trust. “They will go to Oxford in September 2020 to study in fields broadly across the social, biological, and physical sciences, and in the humanities. They are leaders already, and we expect their impact to expand exponentially over the course of their public-spirited careers.”

Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, they are endorsed by their college or university. Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for an interview. This year, more than 2,900 students began the application process and 963 were endorsed by 298 different colleges and universities. The applicants are chosen for their academic excellence, along with their “great personal energy, ambition for impact, and an ability to work with others and to achieve one’s goals,” according to the Rhodes Trust. In addition, Rhodes Scholars are committed to making a positive impact in the world, show concern for the welfare of others, and are conscious of inequities.

U.S. applicants for the Rhodes can apply either through their home state or where they have attended college for at least two years. Profiles of the Yale winners follow:

Lily Moore-Eissenberg

Lily Moore-Eissenberg, from Harvard, Massachusetts, is completing double majors in English and philosophy. As a writer and philosopher, her work centers on analyzing the exploitation of marginalized groups, including issues of gender, migration, and family. She is an award-winning journalist and was co-editor-in-chief of Yale’s political magazine, where she founded the university’s only outlet for public philosophy. As an editorial intern at the Texas Monthly, Moore-Eissenberg covered this summer’s mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. She plans a career as a philosophy professor and staff writer at a long-form magazine. At Oxford, she will pursue a B.Phil. in philosophy.

Christina Pao

Christina K. Pao, of Portland, Oregon, is completing a double major in political science and classics, as well as an M.A. in political science. Her academic research focuses on concepts of citizenship and asylum as they relate to women, immigrants, and slaves. Pao has been deeply involved in campus organizations related to sexual assault and survivorship and currently serves as a member of the Title IX Advisory Committee at Yale. A Truman Scholar, she also works as chief of staff for a local official in New Haven. At Oxford, Christina will pursue an M.Phil. in sociology and demography.

Laura Plata

Laura Plata, who hails from Palatine, Illinois, graduated from Yale in May with a major in ethics, politics, and economics. Her academic studies, including research as a Mellon Mays undergraduate fellow, explore the link between the criminalization of Central American asylum seekers and a global trend toward closed borders. After hearing relatives in El Salvador describe how worsening gang violence and political instability threatened their daily safety, Plata devoted her time as an undergraduate to defending migrants’ rights, including founding the only campus organization dedicated to providing legal assistance to asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants. Plata currently works in Mexico City, tracking migrant kidnappings and conducting independent research on the challenges faced by deported Mexican families. At Oxford, she will pursue the M.Sc. in refugee and forced migration studies and the M.Sc. in comparative social policy. She applied as a Connecticut resident.

Liana Wang

Liana Wang, of Houston, Texas, is majoring in economics. Her research examines shifting patterns of inequality in the United States, and the impact of the tax and welfare system in addressing inequality. Wang serves as the first undergraduate co-director of the Lowenstein Human Rights Project, a human rights law clinic at Yale, and has worked with asylum seekers. A volunteer tax preparer, she assists low-income residents in New Haven in filing tax returns. She is also an award-winning columnist at the Yale Daily News. Wang is the first in her family to attend college, and plans a career as an economist focusing on labor, public finance, and social policy. At Oxford, she will pursue the M.Phil. in politics.

The 32 Rhodes Scholars chosen from the United States will join an international group of scholars selected from 23 other jurisdictions (more than 60 countries) around the world, and for the second year, two scholars from any country without its own scholarship. This year’s class of scholars includes the first Rhodes Scholar ever elected from the University of Connecticut. Approximately half of the class are first-generation Americans. One is the first transgender woman elected to a Rhodes Scholarship; two others are non-binary.

This was an extraordinary year for our Yale Rhodes candidates,” said Rebekah Westphal, assistant dean in Yale College and director of Fellowships and Funding. “We had an exceptionally strong group of nominees, over half of them women, and we ended up with the highest number of Rhodes finalists from Yale since records began. This is also the first time we have had four women win the U.S. Rhodes scholarship in one year, and what a year for it to happen as we celebrate 50-150 years of women at Yale!”

To date, 3,516 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships. The awards were created in 1902 by the will of British businessman and politician Cecil Rhodes.

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