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UVic student fills Rhodes Scholar bill

Dec 06 2012

It's a wonder that B.C.'s newest Rhodes Scholar ever finds time to study.

University of Victoria student Tara Paterson's list of going concerns includes her work with the UVic Anti-Violence Project, AIDS Vancouver Island, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, UVic Pride and the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights.

She also served a one-year term as president of the UVic students' society.

In between, Paterson managed to wedge in a double-major in political science and women's studies.

She will graduate with honours in June before heading off to University of Oxford as the 2013 Rhodes Scholar from British Columbia.

The award, worth more than $100,000, covers all travel, living and study expenses at the famed British university, where she plans to pursue a master's in philosophy in comparative social policy.

British entrepreneur and Oxford graduate Cecil Rhodes, who made a fortune in diamonds in South Africa, established the scholarship in 1903 through his will.

"Rhodes's vision in founding the scholarship was to develop outstanding leaders who would be motivated to fight 'the world's fight' and to 'esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aim,' " the Rhodes Scholarship website states.

UVic Women's Studies chairwoman Annalee Lepp said Paterson possesses the ideal qualities required of a Rhodes Scholar.

She not only gets good grades, asks probing questions and "writes beautifully," but she uses her many gifts to pursue social justice, Lepp said.

"It's her amazing leadership qualities and her capacity to network and bring diverse groups of people together [that] are the qualities I think are really important in a Rhodes Scholar," Lepp said. "It's the whole package."

A native of Winnipeg, Paterson credits her parents with fostering an early interest in social justice.

"My dad's an actor and they exposed me to theatre from a very young age," she said in an interview.

"I think the opportunity to experience children's theatre, to begin with, and then all plays, taught me the value of art, but also spoke about some very important issues."

After high school, Paterson enrolled in the applied theatre program at UVic, but changed her mind a week before arriving.

"I ended up signing up for a bunch of random classes," she said. "One of them was women's studies and one of them was political science.

"I remember reading my women's studies readings weeks in advance," Paterson said.

"I was so interested that it didn't feel like work. I ended up coming to a meeting of the women's studies equity and outreach committee and meeting all of these like-minded, intelligent, funny, active people and realizing that I think I'd found my home."

Paterson said she was so impressed by the people she met and the things they were doing that she was inspired to get more involved in causes. She did so, she says, because she cared about the issues; she had no idea that pursuing her passion would one day lead to Oxford.

"I've worked very hard," she said.

"But I've done this work never with the intention of getting a scholarship. Doing social justice work has never been a choice for me, it's been a necessity."

lkines@timescolonist.com

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