College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

History Makers: Three UM Students among Rhodes Scholarship Finalists

Jarvis Benson, Jaz Brisack, John Chappell set to compete for coveted award

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 BY MICHAEL NEWSOM

Jarvis Benson, Jaz Brisack, John Chappell set to compete for coveted award

Jarvis Benson, John Chappell, and Jaz Brisack

For the first time ever, the University of Mississippi boasts three 2019 finalists for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships, which draw students from around the world to study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Jarvis Benson, Jaz Brisack and John Chappell will compete for Rhodes Scholarships in meetings Nov. 16-17 in Birmingham, Alabama. UM has had 25 Rhodes Scholars and many Rhodes finalists in its history, but never three finalists in one year.

Having three finalists is a testament not only to the students, but also to the university’s faculty, said Douglass Sullivan-González, dean of the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, where all three are students.

“Our pride and joy are immeasurable,” Sullivan-González said. “That our university has produced three finalists for the prestigious Rhodes scholarship means that our faculty and staff have worked with some incredible scholars who have stood up to the questions of the day, and the world has taken notice.

“Once again, our flagship university produces an intellectual nexus to challenge and provoke, and our students engage this moment with verve. What a great time to be working at the University of Mississippi.”

The Rhodes Scholarships, which were created in 1902, bring outstanding students from many countries to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Besides “intellectual distinction,” the selection committee seeks excellence in qualities of mind and of person, which combined offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead.

Rhodes Scholars are elected for two years of study at Oxford University, with the possibility of being renewed for a third year.

Benson, a senior international studies and Spanish major from Grenada, serves as president of the UM Black Student Union. He has worked on civil rights, voting rights, immigration and education and was a 2018 Truman Scholarship finalist for Mississippi. He’s looking forward to representing the university.

“To be selected as a Rhodes finalist is surreal,” Benson said. “I am so blessed to have the chance to represent the university. While I am very excited for the opportunity to further my education at Oxford, I am more excited to show that people who look like me are able to attend and thrive in academic environments.

“To be selected as a finalist, I hope, is to show that it is possible.”

Brisack, a senior general studies and journalism major from Oxford, is the 2018 Truman Scholar for Mississippi and has a long history as a champion for human, civil and labor rights in Mississippi. She is president of the College Democrats, a frequent contributor to The Daily Mississippian and was a teacher-adviser for the Sunflower Freedom Project in 2016.

“The U.K.’s historical dominance on the world stage, and Oxford’s position as that empire’s center of intellectual thought, make this school and this degree program the perfect place to deepen my understanding of how power structures emerge, evolve and can best be influenced or fundamentally altered,” Brisack said. “Interacting with professors and other students who are engaging with these issues from myriad global perspectives will give me the opportunity to critically challenge my own ideas and learn from others’ ranges of experience.”

Chappell, a senior international studies and Arabic major from Albuquerque, New Mexico, co-founded Mississippi Votes and works on international human and civil rights. He is a 2017 Barksdale Scholar.

He said he’s thrilled to be in the competition with Brisack and Benson, both of whom he said are friends and partners in community organizing and coalition building at Ole Miss. Being selected is a testament to the people and communities who have made him who he is today, Chappell said.

“I absolutely could not have come this far without the support of the Croft Institute, Honors College and broader university community, as well as the people who have helped me create homes away from home in Mississippi and abroad,” Chappell said. “My family and hometown community of Albuquerque also make me who I am, and I hope to make them proud in my future career.”

Besides the three Rhodes Scholarship finalists, Abhijaya Shrestha, a senior mechanical engineering student from Nepal, was named a semifinalist in the Global Rhodes Scholarship category.

Shrestha is grateful to the Rhodes Trust for introducing the Global Rhodes Scholarship category this year, which is available to candidates from any country that is not an existing Rhodes jurisdiction.

“I feel lucky to be an applicant in the inaugural year,” Shrestha said. “Being selected as a semifinalist gives me a lot of confidence to pursue my goals in any capacity in the future.

“Regardless of whether I am selected for the next round or not, I already consider it an honor and a privilege and I plan to continue building on it.”