Thamara Jean (Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, 2018) will use her Rhodes Scholarship – the most prestigious award for postgraduate study – to earn an M.Phil. at Britain’s Oxford University. She intends to continue research from her Hunter senior thesis on the philosophical foundations of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was published in the fall 2017 Columbia University Journal of Politics and Society.
“I started thinking about it when Black Lives Matter became a very strong presence in the media,” says Jean, the Brooklyn-born child of Haitian immigrants. “I was trying to connect ideas I was reading about in class with ideas on the ground.”
She considered two major black philosophic traditions. Négritude, a 1940s intellectual and literary movement originating in French-speaking African and Caribbean countries, which aimed at deconstructing colonialism and developing a pan-African racial identity. Afro-pessimism, rooted in the continuing aftereffects of the slave trade, focuses on the subjective, current experience of black people in which blackness is equated to social death. Jean’s article looks at their intersection (“While diametrically opposed, both express the need to protect black people from the system of oppression”), but her current thinking “argues for why we should commit to a more optimistic tradition.”
Jean spent Summer 2017 as a research assistant at Harvard’s African and African American Studies Department, thanks to a Leadership Alliance Fellowship and a Mellon Mays Fellowship, which both support future Ph.D.-level academics. She sought the Rhodes Scholarship “to be surrounded by people with different ideas than mine, who come from different environments, because I’ve seen how beneficial that is.” She’ll choose a doctoral institution after her two-year master’s.