Brown senior studying issues impacting migrant communities wins prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

One of just 32 Rhodes Scholars from the United States, Alexandra Ali Martínez will pursue a doctoral degree in migration studies at Oxford University.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Alexandra Ali Martínez, a senior at Brown concentrating in Latin American and Caribbean studies and international and public affairs, was named a 2021 Rhodes Scholar on Saturday, Nov. 20.

The Rhodes Scholarship, widely considered to be one of the most prestigious academic awards available to American undergraduate students, provides recipients with all expenses for two or three years of graduate study at the University of Oxford in England. With the scholarship, Martínez will pursue a doctoral degree in migration studies.

Alexandra Ali Martinez

Martínez, who grew up in Chula Vista, California, is one of just 32 Rhodes Scholars from the United States selected from more than 2,300 applicants. Twenty-two of the scholars are women, a record number, according to the Rhodes Trust, the organization that awards the scholarships.

Martínez said she applied for the scholarship in part because, like Brown, Oxford takes an interdisciplinary approach to education.

“Brown’s Open Curriculum allowed me to explore courses from a broad range of departments,” she said. “I took courses in French, Hispanic studies, political science, history, ethnic studies and anthropology. As a result, I was able to study migration from a variety of perspectives.”

Inspired in part by her “loving migrant family” and her experience growing up near the U.S.-Mexico border, Martínez spent her undergraduate years studying migrant communities there. She embarked on two honors theses at Brown: an oral history project focusing on families living at the border, and an ethnography on the impacts of U.S. policies on migrant children.

Both projects grew out of two fellowships awarded to Martínez by the Swearer Center at Brown, she said. In Summer 2020, with aid from an Arthur Liman Public Interest Fellowship, Martínez took part in an internship at a bi-national legal service organization, where she created and directed an educational curriculum for migrant children living in shelters at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I created a curriculum to explain the asylum process and create a creative outlet where migrant children could share their experiences and stories,” she said. “Migrant children are so often marginalized and dehumanized through immigration policies. I wanted to provide a space for them to process their difficult experiences and express themselves in all the creative ways that the immigration system doesn’t allow.”

“ If there’s one certainty, it’s that I will continue being me. Wherever I’ve lived, I have always taken on the role of community advocate and community-engaged researcher, and that will never change. ”

Alexandra Ali Martínez Brown Class of 2022

Martínez said that funds from a Royce Fellowship, along with invaluable assistance from Swearer Center staff members Maggie Goddard and Jesús Hernández, helped her transform her ideas into reality, bringing lessons in storytelling, photography, drawing, filmmaking, letter writing and music production to border classrooms. She also worked with international organizations and Stephanie Ravillon, a senior lecturer in French and francophone studies, to translate the curriculum into French and expand its reach internationally.

After Oxford, Martínez said she hopes to return to the U.S. to study law and become an attorney focused on international human rights.

“If there’s one certainty, it’s that I will continue being me,” Martínez said. “Wherever I’ve lived, I have always taken on the role of community advocate and community-engaged researcher, and that will never change.”

She said she aspires to be a lifelong advocate for overlooked, underserved and vulnerable migrant communities worldwide.

“I’m primarily motivated to help the community that raised me,” Martínez told the San Diego Union-Tribune after her Rhodes award. “My research — both the oral history and ethnography — really prioritizes the narratives and stories of our communities, particularly the stories of our migrant communities as a mode to critically reimagine our immigration and global migration systems.”

A member of the student advisory council at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Martínez has worked with multiple international organizations and engaged in extensive public interest legal work with a focus on immigration reform. In addition to her academic and internship work, Martínez is president of the Brown Pre-Law Society and is also a member of Brown’s varsity cross country, and track and field teams.

Martínez credited Linda Dunleavy, associate dean of the college for fellowships, for giving her “the courage to apply” for a Rhodes Scholarship and “preparing me very well, leading all the way up to the interview stage.” The intensive application process involved procuring eight letters of recommendation, and Martínez said the breadth and depth of recommendation letters from faculty across the University (Ravillon, Evelyn Hu-Dehart, Ieva Jusionyte, Iris Montero and Erica Durante, among others) made her application stand out.

Martínez is the fourth Brown student in four years to receive the Rhodes Scholarship. In 2020, Mneera Abdullah Saud was awarded the scholarship and is now pursuing two master's degrees at Oxford. In 2019, Camila Pelsinger was named a Rhodes Scholar; she is now studying criminology and criminal justice at the English university. And in 2018, the award was presented to Rhea Stark, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Islamic art and archaeology. Martínez noted that Stark’s guidance was instrumental to her in the application process.

The 32 Rhodes Scholars chosen from the U.S. will join an international group of scholars chosen from more than 60 countries around the world. They will begin studies at Oxford in October 2022.

“This year’s Rhodes Scholars representing the United States… are inspiring young leaders already, and we are confident that their contributions to public welfare nationally and globally will expand exponentially over the course of their careers in varied sectors and disciplines,” said Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust.