Karen G. Johnston: Story on Smith’s latest Rhodes Scholar should not single out nation of origin

Last modified: Monday, December 02, 2013

To the editor:

The opening sentence of a recent Associated Press article in the Gazette confused me: “A Smith College senior from Nevada says she feels ‘overwhelmed’ after becoming the first Rhodes Scholar from the United States in the 143-year history of the prestigious women’s school.”

I’m not confused about the “overwhelmed” part. Who wouldn’t be after earning such a prestigious award and recognition not only of brilliance, but in this case, of intention to try to heal our beleaguered planet? Right on, Clarke Knight! You go rock this world!

What’s confusing to me is the journalist’s need to highlight that Knight is a first for Smith College at being named a Rhodes Scholar. Because she isn’t the first.

The article even tells us two previous Smith students, Tariro Makadzange of Zimbabwe and Angela Lwiindi Leila Hassan of Zambia, each won the prize before.

So what is Knight first at? In winning it as a citizen of the United States, as an American, who was attending Smith College. I have to ask, “Why is that important? And why is it so important that it is the lead for this article?” What is the point of that distinction?

I am not sure what the reporter’s intended point is, but I find it yet another reminder of how hard it is to let go of privilege — in this case, I would venture to say both white privilege and so-called “Western” privilege.

By raising up Knight’s award as “first,” since there can only be one first, it demeans the actual first, which went to Hassan in 1994.

esides smacking of racism, it’s just unnecessary. Let the recognition of Clark Knight’s amazing accomplishment stand on its own.

Karen G. Johnston



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