With the Oxford sunshine making a rare but welcome appearance, Rhodes House opened its newly-powered front doors to past and present Scholars on the first Saturday in February. In particular, current Scholars welcomed Jen Howitt Browning (California and St John’s 2005) back to Oxford in a collaboration between the Rhodes Women and Oxford Accessibility Project groups.
Pushing athletically up Rhodes House’s newly laid ramps, Jen’s youthful smile belied her wisdom and life experience. A Paralympic gold medallist in wheelchair basketball, a Rhodes Scholar and an expert in disability-inclusive development programmess and using sport for social change, Jen has squeezed more out of life than most.
Speaking to a packed room of Scholars, partners and friends, Jen gave a unique and captivating insight into her life as a Paralympian, Rhodes Scholar, disability-advocate, woman, mother and person living with a disability. Recounting three tales – of her first impressions of the Sydney Paralympics, the challenges of her time in Oxford, and of lessons learnt whilst working in developing countries – Jen made the room laugh, smile and contemplate their privilege, their passions and their future.
Jen’s powerful advice to continue pursuing passions after Oxford, and to not be afraid of the twists and turns that life may take – especially when we expect our paths to be clear and direct – was timely for many final-year Scholars. Beyond this, Jen’s commitment to perpetual learning and to being open to different perspectives and challenges, even in areas of ostensible expertise – was humbling and inspiring. Many Scholars commented afterwards that Jen’s presentation was one of the best they had seen at Rhodes House, and on a weekend no less!
For the Oxford Accessibility Project team, it was an absolute pleasure to work with the Rhodes House and Rhodes Women teams for this joint event. Bringing Jen back to Rhodes House, to shine a spotlight on issues of disability and gender, as well as the developments (and, sometimes, the lack thereof) in accessibility at Oxford, provided powerful motivation to continue our work to empower people with disabilities in Oxford and beyond.
For the Rhodes Women team, the opportunity to continue with the 40 Years Anniversary has been delightful. We’re thankful to have been given the chance to welcome inspiring alumnae back to Rhodes House, and to engage with their wisdom, humour, work, triumphs and challenges through stories and warm conversations. We’re honoured to have worked on this event with the amazing Oxford Accessibility Project team, in consonance with our goal of collaboration, and recognizing that solidarities framed around gender are not discrete, but constantly interacting and evolving. It has been fruitful and generative to share ideas of transforming spaces—through representation, conversation, questions and actions with the Oxford Accessibility Project team. Hearing Jen discuss moments of joy, tribulations, work, and models of impact with warmth, compassion and wit was enriching, inspiring and deeply moving.
On behalf of both groups and the current Scholars, we thank Jen and the Rhodes House events team for their hard working to make this event happen. We look forward to collaborating again in the future!
OXFORD ACCESSIBILITY PROJECT
The Oxford Accessibility Project (OAP) is a young not-for-profit that maps building accessibility for wheelchair users in Oxford. It was started in 2016 by five Rhodes Scholars and friends, to address a clear lack of readily-available accessibility information, and a lack of coordination about these issues, within the University community
Our mission is to map the accessibility of colleges and social venues to provide crucial information to empower people with disabilities to live more active social and personal lives. Our work also brings to light the environmental barriers to social inclusion that wheelchair users face on a daily basis.
RHODES WOMEN GROUP
In the 40th year of Rhodes Scholarships for Women, the RHODES WOMEN group welcomes all scholars identifying as femme, genderqueer, non-binary and women as we affirm and support each other and explore themes and ideas regarding gender. We hope to build community and fellowship across generations of scholars through events and mentoring, commit to intellectual collaboration with other Rhodes groups and local collectives exploring race, sexuality and faith, among others, and to continue to critically interrogate what the social and political category of 'woman' means, to the Rhodes community and to all of us.