What would you do if you found you won one of the most prestigious scholarships in the country? What would you do if this scholarship would help you pay for the graduate program of your choice? Rachel Kaufman ’22 knows exactly. It happened to her just a few weeks ago.
Kaufman was reading on the second floor of Coates Library, trying to decide what she wanted to do for her honors thesis. Buried in journal articles, she heard her phone buzz. It was an email from the Beinecke Scholarship Program.
The Beinecke Scholarship Program was created in 1971 to encourage and enable highly motivated students to pursue opportunities and to be courageous in the selection of a graduate course of study in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The program selects only up to 20 recipients from the top 150 schools each year, and each school invited is only allowed to nominate a single student for the award, which includes a $34,000 scholarship.
“The rule of thumb with my mom was if I were to call twice, the second call in a day had to be about Beinecke,” Kaufman says. “Or I had to text her before I made a second call for that day and be like, ‘Hey, this is not about Beineke,’ because everyone was waiting to find out the news.”
When she first saw the email in the library, Kaufman was disappointed. The subject line said only, “Beinecke Results,” and she was so sure she didn’t get it, she skipped the email and scrolled straight to the bottom.
“I scroll down to the email, and I see it says, ‘We need your headshot by next Friday.’ And I was like, ‘Why do they need my headshot if I lost?,’ and then I scrolled up to the top of the email. At that point, I am shaking,” Kaufman says. “Then I scrolled up and I read, ‘pleasure to inform.’ And then I scrolled back down and read the headshot thing again. And I couldn't read the whole email, I was so freaked out. And then I was like, ‘I won!’ and I started hysterically crying. And I was on the second floor of the library. There are people there, and everyone is silent, and this girl's breaking out in tears.”
The first thing she did after that was FaceTime her mom, and she’s been deservedly celebrating ever since.
Kaufman intends to use this scholarship to begin pursuing her Ph.D. studies in sociology right after graduating from Trinity. She’s hoping to study social stratification and mobility either in the realm of health or education. This summer, she’ll be working with sociology professor Benjamin Sosnaud, Ph.D., to study health disparities.
“I really want to focus on the ways in which social structures in the U.S engage in a reciprocal relationship with socially constructed identities—such as race, class, and gender— to ultimately cultivate different experiences and burdens at the individual level,” Kaufman says.
One of her big motivations for this research is her own experience as a low-income student. “How can I sit there and listen to Dr. Sosnaud teach these incredible things, and then pretend I never heard it?” Kaufman says. “I know what food insecurity looks like. I went to a low-income high school. Seventy percent of us were on free and reduced lunch. So the idea of sitting there and pretending I'm not learning about structural pain and violence—and not doing anything about it—was just astounding.”
As a rising senior, Kaufman has already built quite a resume that helped land her the Beinecke Scholarship. She’s been researching with the Roots Commission, a team of Trinity faculty and students who are examining racism and injustice in the University’s history, specifically the ways chattel slavery comprised the single most valuable asset in the United States and the Texas antebellum economy. She’s also a founding member of Trinity Mutual Aid, a team of Trinity students working to redistribute wealth in the San Antonio community. She has also made an impact on campus as a governor for the Student Government Association, a peer tutor, a teaching assistant, and a McNair Scholar, a competitive preparatory Ph.D. program that pays for students’ summer research and helps with the grad school application process.
With the Roots Commission, Kaufman works with sociology professor Sarah Beth Kaufman, Ph.D.—no relation—to go through archival data and linkage of ancestral relationships between Trinity’s founding Board of Trustee members during the Reconstruction Era. She tracks their lineage, their wealth, and their relationship to slavery, white supremacy, and racialized violence, to examine their journey into Texas and that connection with the University. This spring, Kaufman won the John Donahue Award for her research, which granted her $1,500 to pay for the research she was conducting.
"Dr. Kaufman has been my greatest advocate, an incredible mentor, and inspiration to who I am today and who I hope to be as a scholar in the future. Working with her for a year on the Roots Commission gave me the confidence to pursue academia with my whole heart, remaining unapologetically in love with answering questions,” Kaufman says.
The Roots Commission, however, is just one of the many factors that made her resume stand out for the award. “To get this opportunity—it's forever going to change my life,” Kaufman says of the Beinecke Scholarship. “And it's not that I wouldn't have gone places without it, because I'm determined enough to know that I would go anywhere with or without it. But I was manifesting, dreaming for everything I wanted, and it’s just going to open so many doors.”