ANU International Relations/Law student Yasmin Poole named Rhodes Scholar

Yasmin Poole (Photo by Adam Spence/ANU)

An ANU student who has established herself as one of the leading voices of her generation, Yasmin Poole has been named a Rhodes Australia-at-Large Scholar.

Each year, a select few are awarded the remarkable opportunity of a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford. They are chosen not just for their academic achievement, but for their character, their leadership, and their determination that making a difference can make our world better.

Named Youth Influencer of the Year by The Martin Luther King Jr Center in 2021, and recognised as one of the Australian Financial Review's 100 Women of Influence and 40 Under 40 Asian Australians, Yasmin Poole is a prominent voice for youth in Australian public debate. She is passionate about equality and making sure government reflects the diversity in our society.

“I am specifically interested in how we can create policies that better support women of colour in Australia who are often – and unfairly – left on the sidelines,” says Yasmin. “I intend to study a Master of Public Policy and a Master of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. I want to understand how we can create intersectional gender equality policy, which considers gender, but also race, class, sexuality, and other factors.”

One-hundred Rhodes Scholars are selected each year from participating countries, and since the first Rhodes Scholarship was awarded almost 120 years ago, over 5000 have received the opportunity. It’s often described as a life-changing opportunity, one that stirs many responses.

“I feel a bit of everything – grateful, excited and a little intimidated. I have been reflecting on all the people who have supported me to be who I am and I’m just really thankful. Even the small moments of encouragement have stayed with me.”

Opportunities like this can seem out of reach for so many, they may feel it’s an opportunity for other people, for people of a different background, identity or who enjoyed more opportunities.

“I feel a sense of responsibility. As an Asian-Australian woman from a low-income background, I recognise that these institutions can seem inaccessible. I remember taking a gap year to save for university, doing the numbers and realising my minimum wage job would not even cover half a year of accommodation,” recalls Yasmin. “This scholarship is not only hugely significant for myself and my family, but, I hope, a win for others like me that struggle to see ourselves in these spaces. With this opportunity, I will continue to challenge, question, and speak honestly. I want to push the door open even further for young, diverse women to be heard.”

The need for women to be heard is one that has come into sharp focus over the past 18 months, as the treatment of women in Parliament and public life has made headlines, and the impact of the pandemic draws on. For Yasmin, the time has come for public policy to truly recognise these issues, setting values that prevent violence and harassment, and valuing the contribution women make across a myriad of settings.

“March4Justice showed loud and clear that it is time for a systemic rehaul of how we address gender inequality in this country. One important step is making Federal Parliament a safe place that is free from violence and harassment. It must set a national standard and instead it is trailing behind,” says Yasmin. “We also need to shift the systems that entrench gender inequality. COVID-19 has clearly shown that women continue to shoulder the burden of care, from health settings to the home. This work is typically underpaid or unpaid. I want to understand how we can pull or alter government levers to create policies that value these contributions rather than taking them for granted.”

As Yasmin prepares to embark on an exciting new chapter, she looks back fondly on her time at ANU, on the people who made that journey a richer one and the opportunities that made it possible.

“Going to ANU was one of the best decisions I could have ever made. There are so many people I want to recognise! First, my mother, whose experiences ignited my passion for gender equality. My fantastic lecturers who I deeply admire: Anne MacDuff, Wayne Morgan, Will Bateman, Ron Levy and James Kitchin. The CAS Hawker Scholarship for supporting me to live on campus and focus on my studies. And Melissa Kirby and her team who sponsored the Sharpe & Abel Scholarship which I received in my first year at ANU. This scholarship supported young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, recognising that they can make powerful contributions if given the opportunity. Receiving this financial support gave me the freedom to explore what I was passionate about and ultimately led to the work I am doing now. Equity scholarships transform lives. They certainly transformed mine.”