When senior English education major Arielle Hudson learned that she had received the Rhodes Scholarship, she immediately began to wonder how she could use it to make a difference.
Hudson originally proposed to study comparative social policy and international education at the University of Oxford, but now plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in jurisprudence so that she can help change educational policies in Mississippi.
“I’m from Tunica, Mississippi, which is on the outskirts of the Mississippi Delta,” Hudson said. “…Seeing the education system there is just something that was really valuable to me because I immediately noticed all of the disparities and inequities that exist there. That’s something that I really want to go back and change to make a positive impact on as a teacher and as a future educational policymaker.”
Hudson was recently named the first African American woman to receive the Rhodes Scholarship from the University of Mississippi. Minorities make up the majority of this year’s 32 recipients, and last year, Jaz Brisack was named the first woman from UM to receive that honor.
32 American undergraduate students are chosen each year for the prestigious honor, which provides all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.
UM is now tied with Vanderbilt University as the SEC school with the most Rhodes Scholarship recipients at 27 apiece.
After transferring to the Mississippi School for Math and Sciences in her junior year of high school, Hudson decided to major in English education because of the humanities education MSMS gave her.
“Just having even that expanded curriculum in the humanities and the arts; MSMS actually influenced me, even more, to want to do English because I’ve always been an English person, and I’ve always loved reading,” Hudson said.
Hudson has been competing in pageants since the age of 10. This summer, she was named USA National Miss Hospitality State and finished top 15 in the USA National Miss pageant.
“After my first one, I actually took a break from pageants and I stopped because of the financial hardship,” Hudson said. “Pageants are expensive and I didn’t want my mom, who’s a single parent, to have to fork over all that money by herself.”
Hudson came to the university on the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program scholarship, and decided to use refund money from her scholarships, as well as donations and sponsorships to help fund her participation in pageants.
“When I got to college, I started to feel like there was something missing from my life that I used to have, and I started reflecting on that and figured out that it was pageants,” Hudson said.
She plans to continue to be involved in pageants as a coach after she returns to the United States.
“I really started doing pageants because of the representation,” Hudson said. “I didn’t see women who look like me when I watch Miss USA and Miss Universe, and so I thought that was something that was very important for other individuals to see.”
The Black Student Union is the first student organization that Hudson got involved with on campus, and she served as vice president and president of the organization for the past two years.
“Those are all some of the first people that I met when I came to the university through the MOST conference program, and so coming here and having that close-knit relationship to them develop throughout the years and moving up in BSU is every important and helpful for me,” Hudson said.
Tonika Ingram is the coordinator for the Mississippi Outreach Scholastic Talentconference and has served as the adviser for the Black Student Union for the past two years. She said that Hudson has uniquely positioned herself for success.
“Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in doing all of the things, but I think Arielle really is passionate about everything that she chooses to spend her time doing, which then results in her doing really exceptional work,” Ingram said.
Ingram said that Hudson receiving the Rhodes Scholarship was important for representation, but it was even more important because she did it at Ole Miss.
“I think it’s even more unique to be at an institution like the University of Mississippi and to see students really fight beyond some of the barriers that they experience in the classroom, outside of the classroom, in the city and be able to accomplish something as great as being a Rhodes Scholar,” Ingram said. “She’s a phenomenal student and scholar outside of those identities, but it makes it even more rewarding for students to see her in this space.”
Tim Dolan, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement, helped both Hudson and Brisack apply for the Rhodes Scholarship.
“It’s rewarding. The Rhodes Scholarship tends to be dominated by Ivy League schools,” Dolan said. “Half of the grantees this year went to students that are at Ivy League Schools so I think it’s affirming that Jaz and Arielle, who would be competitive at other schools, choose to come to the University of Mississippi and it testifies to how strong the faculty and staff and programs are here.”
Dolan said that seeing students like Brisack and Hudson succeed helps the university recruit more students.
“We are committed, as the flagship University of Mississippi, to serving residents of the state and so it makes me happy to see that women and underserved students apply and are competitive and successful for these sorts of scholarships,” Dolan said.
Hudson said that she first learned about the scholarship while in high school at MSMS because the first African American woman from Mississippi to receive the award was also a graduate of the school. She was encouraged to apply for the scholarship after seeing her friends at the university, including Brisack, apply for the honor.
“(Seeing them) I guess kind of set in the reality that this was something that I could actually apply for and that I actually qualified to apply for, but actually receiving it; that was pretty shocking, and I think it still is,” Hudson said.
Ingram said that the Rhodes Scholarship is a testament to Hudson’s hard work, and she’s excited to see the work that Hudson will do in the future after her time at Oxford is complete.
“Rhodes Scholarship isn’t something that you just get, and then it’s over,” Ingram said. “This is really where her work is going to begin.”