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Rhodes Scholars on Bernie, Buttigieg, and Meritocracy

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One of the most widely-cited biographical details about Pete Buttigieg is that he is a Rhodes Scholar. This lends him tremendous credibility, privilege, and respect in most professional arenas—advantages we are aware of as Rhodes Scholars. We know that we have been given an elevated platform for the rest of our lives. We also know that our scholarship is not accessible to the vast majority of students. Even those of us who have struggled tremendously to get here have had a ‘leg up’ or a lucky break somewhere: a unique opportunity to develop our resumés or some special recognition by our teachers, classmates, or communities. The Rhodes Scholarship is thus largely a marker of socioeconomic privilege, as well as a willingness to play by the rules of elite institutions, rather than an indicator of political commitment or capacity. Endowing Buttigieg with considerable political leverage due to his academic or personal achievements—without a broader understanding of his privileges—illustrates how inequality has been recast by elites as meritocracy.

Consider the context of Oxford University, where in 2018 over 60% of undergraduate students came from private or grammar schools. Meanwhile, among graduate recipients of the Rhodes Scholarship, the top undergraduate universities represented were Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and Yale. Among the Class of 2019 in Harvard, 16% of students had a parent attend the university. Elite colleges educate students that come from disproportionately wealthy families and private high schools, and that accumulated privilege creates a positive feedback loop of opportunity. The share of students in the 1% that attend elite colleges is already at an all-time high. In effect, most American students are locked out from an opportunity like the Rhodes Scholarship before they reach adulthood. Pete Buttigieg, by contrast, has attended private schools since he was a child.

Buttigieg has frequently highlighted his Rhodes Scholarship, as well as further claims to educational exceptionalism (e.g., claiming to speak eight languages), to........

© Common Dreams