“They are leaders already.” That’s part of how the Rhodes Trust describes the 32 U.S. students to whom it has recently awarded scholarships to the University of Oxford. And it’s undeniably true of Jeremy Thomas ’21, whose Rhodes Scholarship—through which he will study criminal justice and social policy—comes after years of leadership within and beyond Amherst.
In addition to double-majoring in English and law, jurisprudence and social thought, Thomas has been a campus tour guide, a resident counselor, an alumni liaison in the Black Student Union, captain of the mock trial team and president of the Association of Amherst Students.
“A Rhodes Scholar should be committed to make a strong difference for good in the world, be concerned for the welfare of others, and be acutely conscious of inequities,” the trust goes on to say. Thomas fits this bill as well. For one thing, he’s a founding student director of Amherst’s Office of Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. For another, he wrote his Rhodes application essay about his internship with the Southern Center for Human Rights, during which he represented an incarcerated man at a parole hearing.
Thomas plans to spend his first year at Oxford earning an M.Sc. in criminal justice and criminology, in order to “better understand legal relations and convert scholarship into legal challenges to overturn mass incarceration.” In the second year, pursuing an M.Sc. in comparative social policy, he “will study ways we might expand restorative and transformative processes for accountability and think comprehensively about remedying harm, ameliorating violence, and imagining—demanding—a better future.”
Allen Hart ’82, the James E. Ostendarp Professor of Psychology and faculty equity and inclusion officer, has seen in Thomas a “rare ability to lead from within the group as well as from the front.” Hart has worked with Thomas, among others, to develop Amherst’s first-ever Bias Reporting Protocol. “There is no doubt in my mind that this initiative would not have gotten off the ground, and certainly would not have succeeded, without Jeremy’s unwavering advocacy.”
Thomas has a “rare ability to lead from within the group as well as from the front.”
Adam Sitze, the John E. Kirkpatrick 1951 Professor in Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought, is his senior thesis adviser. “Jeremy already conducts himself more like a graduate student than the undergraduate he still is,” Sitze says. “Jeremy has a voracious appetite for literature, argument, theory, law, psychoanalysis, history—anything. Before COVID-19 hit, he was to the library what a kid is to a candy store.”
Thomas is Amherst’s first U.S. Rhodes Scholar since Daniel Altschuler ’04 in 2006. Sebabatso Manoeli ’11 was named a Rhodes Scholar for Southern Africa in 2011, and Itai Muzhingi ’18 as a Rhodes Scholar for Zimbabwe in 2018. This year’s U.S. Rhodes Scholars were selected from more than 2,000 applicants.
Thomas completed the application process from his family’s home in Missouri City, Texas, where he has been studying remotely. “I texted my parents moments after I found out I won, and I could hear my dad shout from downstairs,” he says. “My mom laughed, my brother was a bit overwhelmed too, and my sister asked, ‘Didn’t you win that already?’”
Illustration by Franziska Barczyk