University of Michigan student Rachael Merritt has been named a 2022 Rhodes Scholar, one of 32 Americans chosen to win scholarships to Oxford University.

A senior in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, double majoring in Russian and international studies, Merritt, of Grand Rapids, became the 30th U-M Rhodes Scholar since the awards were established in 1902.

At Oxford, she intends to enroll in the master’s program in Russian and Eastern European studies, followed by a master’s in social science of the internet. 

“These programs will allow me to deepen my understanding of the political and economic contexts that civil society and independent media actors operate within in the REES regions,” she said. “They will provide me with the frameworks and empirical tools to creatively advocate for strengthening democracy and free speech in these regions through open internet.“

I am eager to work with NGOs situated in this thematic and regional intersection, including Internet Without Borders and the Internet Society. I also wish to work with international bodies to begin codifying the rights to free and inclusive internet in internationally recognized contexts.

”The Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world. Each year, 32 young students from the United States are selected as Rhodes Scholars through a decentralized process representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories.

“For the second year, a class of Rhodes Scholars has been elected entirely virtually, with both candidates and selectors participating remotely, safely, and independently,” said Elliot Gerson, American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust. “As successful as the process was, we, of course, hope to return to in-person interviews and selection next year in cities across the country, as had been done for over a century.

”Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford—ranked the #1 university in the world in some global rankings—and may allow funding in some instances for four years.

These students were selected from a pool of 826 applicants, who had been nominated by their 247 colleges and universities. The class includes 22 women, the most ever elected in a year, and has winners from 24 different colleges and universities. They will enter Oxford in October 2022.

This year, U-M had four finalists who interviewed for the Rhodes Scholarship. Merritt is the university’s third scholar in four years.

“I’m so proud of all four of our Rhodes finalists,” said Henry Dyson, director of the U-M Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. “Rachael Merritt’s spirit of adventure, teaching English in Kyrgyzstan, studying in Moscow, her work with the Flying Subtitles Collective and with Russian journalists and activists, embodies the contemporary Rhodes Scholarship’s commitment to ‘fighting the world’s fight.'”

Russia and Eastern Europe, Merritt says, need greater internet regulation and monitoring to promote openness, transparency, and inclusivity of voices.

“I believe that it is more necessary than ever to think critically about the role of the internet in authoritarian regimes and to reimagine the international community’s engagement with the internet to establish democratic norms,” she said. “Studying at the intersection of REES and internet studies as a Rhodes scholar while receiving mentorship from professionals who share a similar vision for accountable digital democracy, I will have the opportunity to help lead this transformation.”