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Driven to make a difference

[Claire Gummo]
Claire Gummo, a fourth-year Political Studies and Gender Studies at Queen's, has been selected as one of Canada's 11 Rhodes Scholars for 2017. (Supplied Photo)

When Claire Gummo found out that she was officially a 2017 Rhodes Scholar, her first call was to her mother.

Still reeling with the shock of seeing her dreams come true, the fourth-year Queen’s student wanted to share the moment.

“I called my mom - who raised my brother and me as a single mother – right away and I told her ‘Mom, all on your own you raised a Rhodes Scholar,’” she says.

Then the two had a good cry together.

Each year 11 Canadians are selected for Rhodes Scholarships, the most prestigious academic awards in the world. Created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes, the scholarships cover all costs for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford. The scholarships are awarded to students on the basis of high academic achievement and personal integrity, who are also expected to emerge as “leaders for the world’s future.”

Ms. Gummo, a Political Studies and Gender Studies student, is the university’s 57th Rhodes Scholar. At Oxford she plans to pursue an MPhil in Comparative Social Policy, studying the impact of sexual violence, and specifically sexual violence policies in security organizations.

While she may have been shocked to be named a Rhodes Scholar, it is not entirely surprising to those who know her.

The Calgary native arrived at Queen’s in 2013 as an Applebanks Loran Scholar, Canada’s largest scholarship awarded to 30 students each year. She is also a recipient of the Queen’s Excellence Scholarship and has been recognized on the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science’s Honour List with Distinction, with grades placing her in the top three per cent of all arts students.

Ms. Gummo’s drive to excel academically, and to make a difference in her community, were instilled by her mother.

“My mother has been an absolute inspiration for me,” she says. “I think growing up in a single-parent home you get a lot of indicators from society that tell you should feel underprivileged. But my mother refused to let our family feel that way. Right from the time that I was a very little girl she always instilled in my brother and me a sense of gratitude and a call to service. That, throughout my life, has been a driving force.”

At Queen’s, Ms. Gummo quickly became involved in the Kingston and university communities.

In her first year, she started to volunteer at the Sexual Health Resource Centre, taking part in the Accompaniment Service, supporting and accompanying clients to Kingston General Hospital if a medical evidence kit was required after an experience of sexual violence.

This had a tremendous and lasting impact on her, she explains. Since then she has set out to make a difference.

“In terms of sexual violence, for me, Queen’s is home and I want everyone to feel safe, welcome, and that they can engage in university life to the fullest,” she says. “I strive for a day when sexual violence is no longer a part of the university experience. That being said, I am encouraged by the fact that I am just one of many students and advocates who are working to make a future free of sexual violence a reality.”

Starting in 2015, Ms. Gummo has led a team of students in the delivery of a bystander intervention training program aimed at mobilizing the Queen’s community to recognize and prevent sexual violence. As a result more than 2,000 students have received the training since August. She also is a student representative on the Provost’s Implementation Team on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence, as well as the associated Working Group, where she has assisted in the development of Queen’s sexual violence policy.

Academically, Ms. Gummo says that she is fortunate to have found a mentor in Stefanie von Hlatky (Political Studies), the Director of the Centre for international and Development Policy.

“She’s really guided my academic journey around women, peace and security, and in particular I found this personal and academic interest in sexual violence,” she explains. “At Oxford I would like to merge my two interests: on the one hand the social-cultural role of sexual violence and then, on the other hand, of defence and security organizations.”

Having now been named a Rhodes Scholar, Ms. Gummo is keenly aware of the people and organizations that have helped her along this journey.

“Above all else, I am deeply grateful to both Queen’s and the Loran Scholars Foundation for the support and sense of community they have provided to me over the last four years,” she says.

To learn more about the Rhodes Scholarship, visit the Rhodes Trust website.

More about the Loran Scholars Foundation can be found online.