At Oxford, Walmsley '15 hopes to broaden understandings of marginalized groups
After reading Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass” in fourth grade, Colin Walmsley ’15 was drawn to Oxford University. Now, more than a decade later, Walmsley is headed to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, where he will pursue a degree in social anthropology.
Walmsley, of Ford MacLeod, Canada, was named a Rhodes Scholar on Saturday, joining a class of about 80 students from around the world, including Ridwan Hassen ’15 and Miriam Kilimo ’14.
An anthropology and government major at Dartmouth, Walmsley is writing a thesis in both departments. His anthropology thesis looks at how LGBTQ homeless youth create community, while his government thesis analyzes state responses to secessionist movements.
Anthropology professor Nathaniel Dominy said he was excited by Walmsley’s selection, but was not surprised.
“He’s just one of our most visible and well-known students in the department,” Dominy said. “He takes as many courses as possible in every sub-discipline there is.”
At Dartmouth, Walmsley also plays for the rugby team, hosts a weekly radio show on 99 Rock andsings with the Brovertones a capella group.
Walmsley was one of six Dartmouth rugby players to be named an Academic All-American by USA Rugby for the 2013-14 season, an honor requiring an athlete to be a consistent starter and hold a cumulative GPA of 3.7 or higher.
Craig Patton, athletic director at F.P. Walshe High School, in MacLeod, and Walmsley’s longtime rugby coach and mentor, said everyone in Walmsley’s hometown reacted to the senior’s accomplishment with pride. Receiving an award with the level of international prestige that accompanies the Rhodes, he said, is uncommon in rural Alberta.
Walmsley captured the respect of his teammates and classmates and was idolized by younger students, Patton said.
“He’s the kind of person that everybody rallied around because of the example that he was setting,” he said. “Everybody worked that much harder because Colin was working harder than everybody else.”
Patton said Walmsley left a legacy at the high school. When running drills, Patton said he still hears students invoking Walmsley's methods, doing things a certain way because that was how Walmsley did them.
A trip to Indonesia during his gap year sparked an interest in anthropology, Walmsley said.
“Coming from a small town and not having that diversity really made me interested in other cultures and other ways of seeing the world,” Walmsley said. “That’s something that stayed with me during my time at college.”
To research his anthropology thesis, Walmsley went to New York City last summer to speak with young, homeless LGBTQ people. On the trip — financed by a grant from Dartmouth’s Claire Garber Goodman Fund — Walmsley hoped to learn about challenges they faced, he said.
“I want to be able to bridge this gap between marginalized groups in society and general society,” he said, “because I feel that a lot of the time we don’t really understand marginalized groups, and this leads to discrimination."
Anthropology professor and Walmsley’s thesis advisor Sienna Craig said Walmsley exemplifies the Rhodes Scholar while representing how the people and projects supported by the foundation have changed over time.
As a gay man and rugby player from a rural Canadian town, Walmsley defies stereotypes, Craig said.
Oxford’s strong visual anthropology program drew him to apply for the scholarship, Walmsley said. At the university, he plans to continue his anthropology research and incorporate documentary filmmaking.
Walmsley said he hopes to use film to help educate people about marginalized groups.
“They have goals, they have history, and they’re people just like everybody else,” he said.
After applying for the scholarship in June, Walmsley was informed he was a finalist last month. After an interview with a panel of judges on Saturday, Walmsley received a phone call at 8 p.m. that evening informing him of his selection.
“They dragged it out like it was a reality TV show,” Walmsley said. “All throughout the phone call, I was steeling myself for not getting the award.”
Once he learned that he had received the scholarship, his family was ecstatic, Walmsley said.
“It was great to have them there while I found out,” he said. “It was a pretty spectacular moment, one I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”