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Tori Harwell ‘24 named a Rhodes Scholar 

Tori Harwell ’24, shown second from left, was selected as a Rhodes Scholar this month. A St. Louis Fellow with the Gephardt Institute, Harwell led a Q&A session last month with filmmaker Jason Greene AB ’03. Also shown (from left) are Greene, Gephardt Institute Director of Programs and Operations Sonia “Shone” Sequeira, and Executive Director Stephanie Kurtzman.

For Victoria “Tori” Harwell ’24, a 2022 St. Louis Fellow, their stellar success invokes not only celebration, but also reflection on the monumental hurdles their ancestors faced to create opportunities for their descendants.  

On Saturday, Nov. 11, at an announcement event in Washington, D.C., Harwell learned that they were one of just 32 students in the United States to be selected as a 2024 Rhodes Scholar. Harwell is the 30th Rhodes Scholar in WashU’s history.  

“When I first heard my name called, I was in utter shock,” said Harwell. “The second thought that entered my mind was that my great-great-great-grandfather William Henry Edwards was owned at one point by John H. McFarland.” 

The Rhodes Scholarship provides students from around the world the opportunity to study at Oxford University in England, and is considered among the highest distinctions a scholar can receive. 

“At that moment, I knew I surpassed even the dreams of my ancestors, and it made me cry,” Harwell said. 

Harwell was a 2022 St. Louis Fellow in the Goldman Fellows cohort with the Gephardt Institute, as well as a John B. Ervin, Udall and Mellon Mays Scholar. For their summer internship in the St. Louis Fellows Program, Harwell worked with Great Rivers Environmental Law, where they tirelessly identified new clients in marginalized communities.  

“Tori has a passion for engaging the community,” said Bruce Morrison, president of Great Rivers. “Probably more than I think any other intern that we’ve had.” 

“As a Goldman summer fellow, most of my work relies on other people to continue to sustain it,” said Harwell. “It relies on the relationships I created with people at Great Rivers, as they allowed my ideas to flourish past that summer. That summer deeply impacted me.” 

Morrison explained that within the first few weeks of their internship, Harwell brought in clients who needed representation to help tackle issues like urban farming and food scarcity in their communities.  

“Tori comes in and says, ‘Here’s somebody who I think needs your help. And this urban farmer could use some help,’” Morrison said. “Tori brought them to us, and without Tori, they wouldn’t be here at all.” 

Harwell explained that the Great Rivers experience was one of several that helped inspire them to use their education to empower grassroots leaders to address climate change in their local communities.  

“The people that I worked with had a hand in shaping my future. My Goldman Fellowship and subsequent projects catalyzed my passion,” said Harwell.  

“Their weekly reflections in seminar would often spur new ideas for my own work and inspired me to think about issues facing St. Louis with a fresh perspective.  I believe Tori will be a leader in furthering racial equity throughout their lifetime, and the Rhodes Scholarship is their next step in doing so,” said Sonia Sequeira, Director of Programs and Operations at the Gephardt Institute. Sequeira served as Harwell’s St. Louis Fellows instructor and mentor in 2022.  

Also during their time at WashU, Harwell studied sustainable design in South Africa and served as a volunteer teacher for the Organization for Black Struggle. After they graduate WashU in May 2024 and move on to Oxford University, Harwell will study nature, society and environmental governance, “with the goal of questioning why as a society we devalued life in the first place.” 

“It is a deep commitment to my community to continue to push the boundaries of systemic white supremacy,” they said.  

To learn more about Tori Harwell ’24 and their Rhodes Scholarship, check out articles in The Source and Ampersand.