Georgia’s newest Rhodes scholars making a difference already

At first glance, Chelsea Jackson and Calvin Runnels have little in common.

They’re different genders, races, come from different states and attend different universities in Georgia.

However, there are some similarities. They’re campus leaders who are passionate about social justice, and they’re Georgia’s newest Rhodes scholars.

Jackson, 21, and Runnels, 20, received the honor, which is considered among the world’s most prestigious academic awards, this month.

“My jaw dropped…I’m still in shock,” said Jackson, an Emory student double-majoring in political science and African-American studies, who grew up in Lithonia.

“I was speechless,” said Runnels, a Georgia Tech student majoring in biochemistry from Baton Rouge, La.

Both students said they plan through their scholarships to explore ways to help others. Runnels, a transgender male, wants to find ways to increase diversity in science. Jackson hopes to examine potential criminal justice reforms that may reduce the use of solitary confinement and expand the maternal rights of incarcerated women. They will attend Oxford University in England this fall.

The two stood next to each other when the announcement was made. They became friends during the interview process over shared interests, such as being fans of hip hop star Kendrick Lamar. They’ve exchanged contact information and plan to connect at Oxford.

Runnels, a third-year student, has a 4.0 grade point average and is scheduled to graduate next year. Runnels said he chose Georgia Tech because he wanted to go somewhere he could get involved in social issues on campus.

Runnels was appointed earlier this semester to co-chair Georgia Tech’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and Ally action team after the fatal police shooting in September of student Scout Schultz, who was president of Georgia Tech’s Pride Alliance. The team’s recommendations included health care insurance coverage for transition-related medical expenses for transgender students and hiring counseling staff specifically trained in LGBTQIA-related areas.

“It’s one of the most important things I’ve done,” Runnels, who knew Schultz, said of his participation on the team.

Jackson, the first African-American student from Emory to earn a Rhodes Scholarship, is the sole bachelor’s/master’s degree candidate in political science. Her topic is examining what impact a prosecutor’s race can have on racial discrepancies in the criminal justice system, such as whether to charge the accused with a felony or misdemeanor. Jackson, a senior, has a 3.9 grade point average.

Jackson helped restart Emory’s NAACP chapter, which produced programs to engage and help younger African-American students in the area. Jackson also co-founded a group to support African-American college students across metro Atlanta dealing with issues on their campuses, such as trying to get more African-American studies classes and input on their college presidential search process.

Jackson, a Southwest DeKalb High School graduate, said several professors have encouraged her to consider careers in their fields, which are traditionally more financially lucrative than her current goal of becoming a civil rights attorney, either with the U.S. Justice Department or a non-profit organization focused on social justice.

“I couldn’t do something if I wasn’t passionate about it,” Jackson said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Education

Schools, parents don’t want learning, or fun, snowed under
Schools, parents don’t want learning, or fun, snowed under

Clayton County Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley took to social media Wednesday morning with a plan for his students stuck at home as metro Atlanta contended with icy roads and freezing temps: Go play in the snow. “I think it’s important that we let kids be kids,” he said. “When life, through whatever method, gives us...
Let the snow come: these districts don’t miss days
Let the snow come: these districts don’t miss days

Wednesday was a snow day, but still a school day, for many metro Atlanta students. Some school districts, such as Gwinnett and Forsyth, use online lesson plans and assignments for students to avoid missing a snow day, a practice they’ve used for a few years, to the disappointment of some students. In Gwinnett, the state’s largest school...
Emory, Georgia State, KSU canceling classes Thursday
Emory, Georgia State, KSU canceling classes Thursday

Some metro Atlanta colleges and universities are canceling classes Thursday, due to continued severe weather conditions. Georgia State, Kennesaw State University, Agnes Scott College and Georgia Gwinnett College will be closed Thursday. Emory University, including Oxford College, will also be closed, officials announced.   The closing applies...
Whether and when to close schools is tough call even for experienced districts
Whether and when to close schools is tough call even for experienced districts

There’s always griping about how the south overreacts to snow, while districts farther north soldier through bad weather. But deciding whether and when to close schools is an imprecise science even in areas accustomed to wintry weather, as shown today in Montgomery County in Maryland. Parents there were not happy...
Metro Atlanta schools announce Thursday closures as ice, cold linger
Metro Atlanta schools announce Thursday closures as ice, cold linger

Atlanta Public Schools, Gwinnett County, Fulton County, DeKalb County, Cobb County, Clayton County, Marietta City Schools and Henry County Schools are among the area districts to announce they will be closed Thursday because of concerns that ice and cold temperatures will persist. Also closed Thursday are City Schools of Decatur, Fayette County Public...
More Stories