Stephanie Bell graduated from the College in 2008 with an AB in Gender Studies and Anthropology. She is currently a Rhodes Scholar and is earning her MPhil in Development Studies at Oxford.
I stumbled into my Gender Studies major at UChicago when I realized that signing up for classes on "whatever I found interesting" meant focusing on questions of gender, sexuality, and social equality. Those interests took me to the classes of Professors Lauren Berlant and Jean Comaroff, who influenced my decision to major in both anthropology and gender studies. Their mentorship supported my selection as a Truman Scholar, fostered my interest in South Africa's HIV/AIDS epidemic (the subject of my undergraduate thesis), and shaped the path I've taken since UChicago. In my non-profit strategy job at The Bridgespan Group after graduation, I used the rigorous critical frame provided by my GS courses to address the social impact questions posed by our clients. My experiences in South Africa and at Bridgespan convinced me that I needed to broaden my disciplinary background, and so I applied for a Master's in Development Studies to get more depth in economics, politics, and history.
I started at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 2010, and am writing my thesis on education and activism in South Africa. Like UChicago, I did not intend to explicitly focus on questions of gender and sexuality, but they've become central to my life regardless. Earlier this year, I garnered unexpected notice as a writer on gay marriage after my open letter to a representative in my home state of Iowa went viral. I've also taken on leadership roles in both the Rhodes Women and the Rhodes LGBT groups. More than anything, my commitment to gender and sexuality issues means ensuring that they aren't ghettoized as "other people's problems" or seen as somehow separate from people's daily lives. Social norms on gender and sexuality affect us all. With the Rhodes groups, I have the opportunity to reinforce that idea with young leaders from different sectors, poised to make an impact from Adelaide, Australia to Lusaka, Zambia. The Rhodes Women and Rhodes LGBT groups work to create an inclusive environment at Oxford in which challenging standard concepts of gender and sexuality is the rule, not the exception. It's my hope that our efforts will have a reach far beyond the spires of Oxford.