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5 questions with UM’s first female Rhodes Scholar Jaz Brisack

University of Mississippi senior was named the 26th Rhode Scholar in school history last weekend, and made school history.

The EAGLE caught up with UM’s first female Rhodes Scholar, and she talked about her inspirations and motivations as she accepts one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world.

How does it feel to be UM’s first female Rhodes Scholar?

I’m honored to get to be a role model for other Mississippi girls looking for ways to make their voices heard in a state still very much dominated by patriarchal structures. Given that our state amplifies the voices of white supremacist women like Cindy Hyde-Smith who reinforce and uphold misogynist policies, I’m glad to be able to provide a very different example of how an empowered Southern woman acts.

Who do you hope to inspire with this scholarship?

I hope to inspire people to speak out against injustice, even when it’s difficult or unpopular. I’m a labor organizer and abortion clinic defender in a state that actively makes those tasks as difficult as possible. I want people to realize that human rights are non-negotiable.

Who at UM has been the biggest inspiration or helped you the most to get the scholarship?

Tim Dolan kept pushing me to apply, even when I procrastinated or panicked. Kiese Laymon not only rekindled my love of writing, but my first interview question was about his novel, Long Division! And I’ve taken six classes with Joe Atkins, who’s also chairing my thesis defense and constantly encouraging my love of labor. I couldn’t have done this without the support of so many people on campus — my debate coach, JoAnn Edwards, professors like Vaughn Grisham, mentors like Debra Young.

What are you looking forward to the most during your time at Oxford?

I’m excited to meet scholars from all over the world and learn from their perspectives and experiences. I’m also looking forward to studying with tutors one-on-one, attending lectures on a variety of subjects, and traveling.

Of all your accomplishments, where does this scholarship rank in your eyes?

For me, this scholarship is not an accomplishment in itself but rather a platform from which to continue working for human rights and justice. Persuading a worker to sign a union authorization card or helping a woman obtain an abortion are the achievements that truly matter to me.