On the Road to Oxford

By Charlotte Bruce Harvey '78 / January / February 2006
April 18th, 2007

Sasha-Mae Eccleston and Jessica Ashooh are both Brown seniors, and they're both off to Oxford University next year, as a Rhodes and a Marshall Scholar, respectively. But that's about all the two have in common.

Eccleston, a classics and literary arts concentrator, was born in Jamaica. Her family moved to Camden, New Jersey, when she was four and stayed there until she landed a scholarship to the Lawrenceville School, a prep school in a parklike New Jersey town. Eccleston's parents moved to Lawrenceville with their daughter, who began studying Latin in ninth grade and hasn't looked back.

Her freshman year at Brown, a professor urged her to take up Greek. "That was hard!" she says with a burst of laughter. "I mean I can imagine people speaking Latin, but Greek makes no sense at all." She was hooked. "There are so many things to do in classics. You can study history, art, literature, but you still have a home you can anchor yourself in."

She spent her junior year in Rome, and though she loved the city, the language, and her discipline, she bristled at the narrowness of her teachers: "They said I thought too much," she says. She returned to the United States, worked as an editorial assistant at Random House over the summer, and had a job waiting for her there after graduation.

But this fall another professor urged Eccleston to apply for a Rhodes - two weeks before applications were due. So she hustled together the paperwork, writing her essay on the idea of translation and the fact that it's a necessity for immigrants (she points to her parents' need for guidance when they landed in Camden, not knowing how dangerous it was).

"What you don't know is bad," Eccleston says. "And what you don't know you don't know is worse." To meet a contemporary student need for translation, she helped create Build, a blog-like Web site for black students at Ivy schools. Its aim is to provide information and contacts students need to get ahead.

At Oxford, Eccleston plans to complete her MPhil in classics and perhaps to stay on for a third year and a DPhil. She's not sure. She wants an academic career and is weighing the merits of a PhD from a U.S. university.

In the meantime, she's wrestling with a new, Internet-based translation problem. After choosing this year's winners, the Rhodes Trust asked each student for a handwritten biographical statement. Eccleston wrote that she was a fan of reggae and rock music, but somehow that was mistranslated into "rasta," and the media have reported she's a Rastafarian. "It is the worst stereotype ever," she says passionately.

Where Eccleston effervesces enthusiasm and ideas, Jessica Ashooh embodies poise under pressure. An international relations concentrator, she's also a mezzo-soprano and a cellist. At Oxford she intends to complete an MPhil in international relations and hopes to extend it a third year to complete the DPhil.

Ashooh plans a diplomatic career in U.S.-Middle Eastern relations, something she became interested in through a freshman-year class on Israeli society. She studied Arabic in Tunisia and spent her junior year at the American University of Beirut. "My great-grandparents were Lebanese," she says. "They moved here after World War I - during the famine. I'm the first person in my family to want to go back."

Last summer Ashooh worked at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. "Cato was a good place for me," she says, "It made me more comfortable describing my own political views. "I'm a New England Republican," she says: "libertarian-leaning, socially liberal, economically conservative." Before Cato, she says, "I tended to avoid the subject."

The Marshall Scholarships were established to foster U.S.-European relations, and Ashooh finds the match fitting. "It hurts me that the United States and Europe are so alienated right now," she says. "I'd like to help bring them back together."

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January / February 2006