It is, without a doubt, an honour. But above all, Levi Hord sees it as the utmost recognition of the humanities and the worth and impact scholarly work can have in society.
Hord, a fourth-year Sexuality Studies, School for Advanced Studies in Arts & Humanities (SASAH) and Scholar’s Electives student, has been named a recipient of the esteemed Rhodes Scholarship, an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford. It is widely considered to be one of the world’s most prestigious scholarships.
Named for the British mining magnate and South African politician Cecil John Rhodes, the scholarship offers two years of all-expenses-paid postgraduate study at Oxford. Its 110-year tradition includes three Nobel Prize winners, as well as former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner and former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Hord is Western’s 23rd Rhodes Scholar.
“It still hasn’t really settled in yet. I’m incredibly excited to be able to study at Oxford, especially with the other people who have become Rhodes Scholars. There’s no other group of people in this world who could push my thought forward or challenge it. I want my thought to be challenged – that’s the only way we can move forward,” said Hord, who has a passion for furthering transgender academia and theory.
“Getting to be in the best humanities university in the world with people who are just as engaged as I am, I am absolutely thrilled. I can’t wait.”
Over the course of their undergraduate studies at Western, Hord has undertaken extensive research on the use of gender-neutral language in transgender communities, and how linguistic identity expression varies based on grammatical gender systems. This project is part of a larger mission to raise awareness of, and enhance research into, transgender identities and how they are embodied and experienced in society. Hord hopes to play an integral part in breaking through the social and intellectual barriers that remain for those who subvert the binary gender system.
By way of SASAH, they also worked at Woodland Cemetery in London, helping to unearth and restore gravestones all but lost to history. This year, Hord was also among Western’s Undergraduate Award recipients.
As part of the Rhodes application process, an extensive and lengthy interview is required. Twelve applicants from each region are selected for an interview. Going in, Hord was apprehensive, having heard questions can be tough, unexpected and intimidating.
But coming out of the interview, Hord was encouraged.
“They asked me about my work at the cemetery and how I saw that relating to my studies in gender and identity and how they are connected,” Hord explained.
“It gravitated to my views which came out of my studies, how, as a gender theorist and as a gender queer person, I would approach certain issues in terms of category or identity, or if I think the human rights code approaches the mediation of rights correctly – things that tested my political engagement based on what I already knew through my studies.”
The conversation was “really intense and rewarding,” Hord added, rather than the sort of grilling anticipated by applicants. The questioning reinforced the worth of a humanities degree and showed there would be support for the work they are doing.
“As a humanities student, I had been prepared to defend the worth of the work I was doing in terms of the betterment of humanity and how I could serve my fellow people. When I got into the room with the selection committee, it was like they already believed it was valuable. That was a big thing for me,” Hord noted.
At Oxford, Hord plans on doing a double master’s – two one-year degrees, the first in women’s studies and the second either in political theory or with the Internet Institute at the university, looking at how embodiment and identity is negotiated in a Digital Age.
“Along with that, I’m going to be continuing a lot of the advocacy work I’ve already started in my community. One of the biggest things I can learn from this experience is I want to figure out, especially in an age that is anti-expert, is how we can bring this type of theory, that allows people to live, and make it something that is actually useful, something we can talk about, human to human and not keep that locked away in an academic space,” Hord added.
“How do we make it culturally accessible? How do we make it matter to people to actually push things like activism and advocacy forward?”
Being a Rhodes Scholar isn’t just a personal accomplishment for Hord. It is an acknowledgement, they continued.
“It is an important acknowledgement that the perspectives I’m looking at in terms of gender and humanities, renegotiating human meaning, right now, in this age, that somebody also recognizes that as important. That should be a lesson to everybody, but particularly to younger students in the humanities or people who are also receiving a hard time justifying their field of study. It’s work that needs to be done.”
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Recognized among the world’s most prestigious and best known student awards, the Rhodes Scholarships were initiated after the death of Cecil Rhodes in 1902, and bring outstanding students from many countries around the world to the University of Oxford.
Currently, 11 Rhodes scholarships are awarded in Canada, two of which are designated for the province of Ontario. Western is very supportive of the Rhodes Scholarship program, and has helped to support 23 successful candidates over the years:
Levi Hord, BA 2018
Saumya Krishna, BHSc 2013
Brian Coulter, BESc, HBA 2009
Joelle Faulkner, BESc, MBA 2004
Maureen Hogan, BSc 2001
Samir Sinha, MD 2000
Dilip Ninan, BA 1998
Richard Pan, BA 1997
Javed Siddiqi, BSc 1984
Andrew Sean Nevin, BSc, MA 1980, 1981
Stephen Kevin Burley, BSc 1980
John Alexander Stilborn, PhD 1979
Jonathan Michael Borwein, BA 1971
Colin Gordon Andrew Brezicki, BA 1970
David Michael Grace, MD 1964
James Montague Farley, BA 1962
John Hugh MacLennan, DLitt 1952 (honorary degree)
Benson Andrus Wilson, BSc 1948
Ramsay Willis Gunton, MD 1945
James Frederick Grandy, BA 1941
Rev. Kenneth Elder Taylor, BD 1933
Angus Duncan McLachlin, MD, MSc 1932-1933
Dalton Gilbert Dean, BA 1931