Chemist, artist, activist: Meet Canada’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar


British Columbia’s latest Rhodes Scholar says she was persuaded she did not have an opportunity.

But Julia Levy says she is thrilled to be Canada’s first trans queer woman to obtain the award and head to the University of Oxford.

Levy, 24, says she is aware of that Nineteenth-century diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes would in all probability disapprove. But Levy will head off to pursue a grasp’s diploma in computational chemistry subsequent fall and sees it as an enormous “alternative.”

“There’s one thing very highly effective about coming right into a scholarship that was not supposed for you initially,” says the Vancouver-raised University of Victoria chemistry main with a visible arts minor who now heads to the world’s oldest college.

Levy is considered one of eleven Canadians awarded the Rhodes Scholarship for 2023, becoming a member of the first Indigenous woman to obtain the scholarship in Canada: Lakoiehwáhtha Patton, a member of the Kanien’kehá:ka First Nations group and fourth-year pupil on the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Science.

The scientist, artist, activist and laptop programmer says her expertise transitioning from male to feminine and coping with an ADHD prognosis in college give her a perspective others might not have.

University of Victoria chemistry Prof. Jeremy Wulff mentioned in an announcement that Levy — who invented an app to permit learners to visualise advanced molecules on their cellphones known as moleculAR — is destined for greatness.

Taking science smarts to road stage

Levy was raised in Vancouver by a psychology professor to be inquisitive, however says her mother and father by no means pushed her. She additionally cherished Star Trek and Breaking Bad, the latter a couple of highschool science trainer turned methamphetamine kingpin.

She volunteered to check medication to stop deaths and says her work with Substance UVIC confirmed her how the pandemic modified the drug provide, placing extra lives in danger as the usage of benzodiazepines, that are used as fillers, started to rise.

“It impacts the folks I like and it impacts the town that I like,” mentioned Levy.

Levy, 24, was considered one of 11 Canadians chosen to obtain the Rhodes Scholarship for 2023. She grew up in Vancouver and studied chemistry and visible arts on the University of Victoria. (Ilmė Vyšniauskaitė)

“Drug checking is without doubt one of the issues that has felt actually sensible and significant. It’s like one of many biggest social items that I can do with chemistry.”

Dennis Hore, a UVIC professor of chemistry and laptop science who runs Substance UVIC, celebrated the information of Levy’s scholarship.

“She’s a really deserving candidate. She simply had so many areas she was all for,” mentioned Hore.

The first overtly trans woman Rhodes Scholar — Hera Jay Brown — was the University of Tennessee’s ninth Rhodes Scholar in 2020, and research refugee displacement and compelled migration in Jordan. She’s already linked with Levy, and lauds her work.

“It’s superb … she’s integrating her tutorial work into the motion work she does in communities,” mentioned Brown.

Push for change

Perry Zurn, an affiliate professor of philosophy at American University who researches transgender points, says Levy stands out.

“She’s a scientist and an activist. She’s a chemist and an artist,” mentioned Zurn. “This type of multiplicity is exactly, I feel, the factor that trans of us can carry and that should be celebrated.”

But Zurn says that as a trans woman, Levy additionally carries an additional burden in academia.

“We have a duty as trans folks …. to not solely be included in it, however to decide to altering it.”

There has been a push to get Oxford University to face its previous, from the Rhodes Must Fall motion that pulled down the Cecil Rhodes statue to Uncomfortable Oxford, lecturers who present strolling excursions to lift consciousness about facets of the establishment’s historical past equivalent to racial inequality, gender and sophistication discrimination, and different ugly remnants of the push to increase the British Empire.

By selecting Levy, Zurn says it seems that the scholarship that Rhodes created along with his will is evolving.

In her second yr, Levy invented an app to permit learners to visualise advanced molecules on their cellphones known as moleculAR. (Julia Levy )

The scholarship is a global postgraduate award for college kids to review on the University of Oxford.

It was established in 1902. A complete of 100 college students are awarded the distinguished scholarship annually. Rhodes, its British Imperialist founder, wished to unify English-speaking nationals and foster civic-minded leaders. The Rhodes Scholarship has confronted controversy for excluding Black folks, ladies and others. And for its identify — commemorating a South African chief who as soon as launched laws to push Black residents from their land.

Fury flared final spring when protesters pulled a 900-kilogram bronze statue of Rhodes from a plinth on the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Grappling with the previous

Elizabeth Kiss, warden of Rhodes House in Oxford and CEO of the Rhodes Trust, instructed CBC in an interview that the group is opening its doorways to numerous candidates.

“We’re actually saying, to all good and dedicated and passionate younger folks, that it’s best to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship. We’re actually happy with our trailblazers like Julia.”

Kiss says the first feminine Rhodes Scholar — Catherine Burke Sweet — was named in 1977, “however that took an act of Parliament to realize.”

Kiss says the Rhodes Trust is grappling with the truth that a lot of the wealth mined out of South Africa enriched North Americans. It’s aiming for 32 African students, to match these drawn from the United States.

Kicking at obstacles

Levy says she needs to make use of her spot at Oxford to push change.

“Obviously the cash got here from an extremely terrible supply. But if I can do some good with that cash, then that looks like a constructive,” mentioned Levy.

While she’s happy with her achievements, Levy says she is aware of she began with sure privileges.

“I’m on the peak of each different privilege — white, supportive mother and father, who grew up in a superb residence with monetary stability,” mentioned Levy. And she says she is cautious of getting used to “wash the slate clear” or expunge any previous wrongs.

“I do not suppose that any of that must be ignored,” mentioned Levy.

But she’s additionally assured that her private background will carry a brand new perspective.

“I do perceive what it’s to be on the backside of the pile in some methods. Being trans and being queer, you get that have and you realize what it’s prefer to be ‘othered,'” mentioned Levy.

Oxford welcome

Kiss says Rhodes House — the Oxford mansion, with an oak staircase and eagle finials, the place students from everywhere in the world will collect — encourages inclusivity, however “there’ll undeniably be factors of friction and disagreement. After all, you realize, we’re in an enormous, messy world proper now.”

She says the damaging facets of the founder’s imaginative and prescient for the scholarship have been rejected, apart from core values that also make sense.

For instance, she says, Rhodes wished to develop folks with “an vitality to guide and a kindness for others.”

That — Kiss mentioned — Levy has in spades.

“I have not met her but. I am unable to wait to welcome her to Rhodes House. That mixture of chemistry and artwork and the way in which wherein she has already demonstrated a ardour for making her group higher…. [Levy] is exactly what we’re searching for in Rhodes Scholars now.”


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