Raised by women in Mexico and across the border in the U.S., Mayra Tenorio Lopez ’15 is well aware of how gender inequality can constrain and imperil lives. But she refuses to accept it.
“The eradication of gender stratification is the focus of my research,” she says, “and the driving force behind my activism with women and girls.”
That focus will sharpen this fall. As just the third Swarthmore alum to earn a Gates-Cambridge Scholarship, an honor akin to the Rhodes Scholarship in selectivity and standing, Tenorio will explore how indigenous women in Guatemala use their bodies to resist gendered violence within their community.
“As an aspiring feminist scholar in the social sciences, my studies will prepare me to engage rigorously with the challenges posed by gender inequality,” she says, “and expand my analysis and vision so my work may expose and create alternative worlds and possibilities for everyone, especially women.”
Tenorio, who was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow while at the College, will enroll in a one-year, master of philosophy program in multidisciplinary studies at the Newnham College of The University of Cambridge. She will join scholars there from around the globe.
“Each scholar will bring different stories, interests, and talents,” says Tenorio. “I'm very excited to learn from them and to get inspired by how they embody the mission of the Gates-Cambridge Scholarship.”
Tenorio studied sociology & anthropology at Swarthmore, completing two research projects – with the help of her Mays fellowship – to examine “the inconspicuous ways in which gender inequality persists and adapts.” After graduation, she documented women’s stories and collaborated with female-led grassroots movements in nine countries as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow.
“I was looking for a focused way to develop the insights gained during my experiences working with women and girls as a Watson Fellow,” Tenorio says. “The Gates-Cambridge Scholarship is unique in that it invests in individuals who are committed to using their education to improve the lives of others. I felt this was the best avenue for me to carry on both my academic and activist goals.”
Tenorio pegged her chances for the fiercely competitive Gates-Cambridge as “slim.” She had to pass through three rounds, as Gates-Cambridge whittled its pool of more than 6,000 applicants, and a personal interview in March. Scholars were chosen on the basis of their intellectual ability, commitment to improving the lives of others, and leadership potential, as well as their academic fit at Cambridge.
“When I received the celebratory email, I could not believe it,” she says. “I immediately notified and thanked all of people who helped me on my journey — professors and mentors who served as my recommenders, past scholars who shared advice about the application process, and the Office of Fellowships & Prizes, which helped me prepare for my interview.”
After completing her degree, Tenorio will return to the U.S. to find a job conducting search, but her long-term goal is to obtain a Ph.D in sociology. She joins Madeleine Booth ’15 and David Zipper ’00 as Gates-Cambridge Scholars from Swarthmore.