» A Conversation with Kim-Marie Spence
10th Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium featuring Ashford
& Simpson P'97
Congratulations to the New Alumni-Elected Trustees!
Bon Voyage, Dwayne Busby ’95!
AOC Network Notes
by Ciaran S. Escoffery ’00
Did you know that the first American Rhodes Scholars were elected in 1904 and one of them was from Wesleyan? In December 2001,
Kim-Marie Spence ’00 joined the group of 15 Wesleyan Rhodes Scholars, the first Wesleyan woman and the second Wesleyan person of
Color to receive this coveted prize.
After graduation, Kim worked on Wall Street for Lehman Brothers, but soon realized that she was not meant for the corporate world. Kim felt drawn to work for a non-governmental organization (NGO), and so resigned from Lehman, left New York and moved home to Jamaica. She was determined to work with an organization dedicated to women’s rights, development issues and/or peace issues. She admits there are definite privileges that come with corporate work compared to the frustration and constant roadblocks that often accompany working for an NGO, but remarks that the NGO work still needs to be done, and she wants to do it.
Kim has spent time in Israel working with Women Against Violence, a Palestinian organization that provides shelter and counseling for victims of gender-based violence. She has also worked in Delhi, India, as the United States, Caribbean and
Pakistani representative to the World Cup Campaign, an organization whose primary mission is to end child labor practices in the sporting goods industry.
Kim will enroll in Oxford University’s Master of Philosophy in Developmental Studies program. With Kim’s strong interest in the development issues of Southeast Asian countries, this program will provide the economic, historical, political, and anthropological background necessary for her to work in that region.
Ciaran: Your first application in 1999 for a Rhodes Scholarship was unsuccessful. What motivated you to apply again?
Kim-Marie: I reapplied after I had resigned from Lehman Brothers and before I left for Israel to work with Women Against Violence. I’m happy that I didn’t get it the first time. People always say stuff like that, but I wouldn’t have been prepared if I had gotten the scholarship on my first try. I wasn’t applying for myself or from my heart then. I was applying because other people thought that I should. When I applied the second time, I was ready. I was more certain of my career interest, knew I needed to go back to school in order to prepare for what I want to do, and also knew I didn’t have the money to go to grad school. Knowing that Oxford offered the program that I was interested in and that the scholarship would take care of my money problems, I quietly reapplied. I think the only person who knew I was reapplying was my mom.
C: Did you ever feel intimidated while you were applying? As an applicant who is Jamaican… a woman… person of Color?
K: I probably felt some of that the first time I applied. I think if I had applied in America, there probably would have been pressure about my gender and race, but since Jamaica is a black country, I didn’t have the race issue to consider. And with the majority of Jamaican Rhodes finalists being women, I didn’t have the gender issue to think about, either.
What did intimidate me a little was that the majority of Jamaicans who apply are primarily of upper class status. Coming from a single parent home, I thought about the class thing when I considered the applicants that I’d be up against, and that maybe my application would be overlooked because I didn’t have the right status. It’s the same way black people in the United States might not apply because they think their application may be overlooked because they’re not white. By the time I went through the process the second time, I didn’t think about any of that or let any of it worry me. Anyone can apply to be a Rhodes Scholar, not just rich white people. You don’t win or not win because of your race or economic status. That’s why I wish more poor people in Jamaica and more black people in the U.S. would apply.
C: What advice would you offer to those who want to apply but think they won’t have a chance?
K: People say they’re not going to go after this or that because they will probably never get it. If you don’t apply for what you want, you can be certain you will never get it. I don’t like that kind of certainty. Certain things you may want in life can seem like a long shot, but if you’re not in the race, then how can you win?
People ask me, “Why bother working for an NGO? Global issues will never improve.” The only way I can be certain that will be true is if I never do anything to change global issues. It’s your life. You have to determine your own direction and what’s good for you. I graduated from Wesleyan as an economics major with good grades; everyone expected me to go somewhere like Lehman Brothers. While I was there it was a good experience for me, but it just wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t have anything against Lehman; I still have friends who work there and they’re very happy. I couldn’t force myself to stay because other people thought that I should. Go after what makes you happy, no matter what it is, or what other people think.
C: What’s it like to receive such a prestigious award?
K: I think the whole thing is just dawning on me now. I was in Israel when I was contacted to return to Jamaica for the final interview. A few days after it was decided that I was the Jamaican Rhodes Scholar, I returned to Israel where no one knew or cared; it wasn’t important to the work I was there to do. I never really had a chance until now for it all to sink in, and I’m really excited!
Getting the scholarship is a means to an end. Now that I have it, I have to make good use of it.
C: Have there been any unexpected surprises?
K: I was really surprised at how extensive the Rhodes Scholar community is. I had other Rhodes Scholars calling and e-mailing me from all over, congratulating me and wishing me good luck. I don’t even know how they knew or found out about me, but it felt good! I also heard from members of the Rhodes Scholars of Color community, welcoming me to the club, so to speak, and letting me know I should call them if I have any questions or ever need anything. That was huge for me. It made me realize what a great network of people I have.
A few days after I returned to Israel, a Wesleyan alumnus called me on my cell phone to congratulate me and to express his support,
Bob (Robert) McKelvey ’59. He asked me about my work in Israel…he was really nice. He wanted me to know that he was very happy for me, that he himself was a Rhodes Scholar, and that
Isaac Shongwe ’87 was the other Rhodes Scholar of Color from Wesleyan. To this day, I still don’t know how he found out that I was in Israel, or how he got my cell phone number. I’m just amazed by the whole thing.