6 January 2022

Passion for fairer society lands ANU student a Rhodes Scholarship

| Sally Hopman
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Yasmin Poole

Rhodes Scholar Yasmin Poole from the Australian National University. Photo: Adam Spence/The Australian National University.

Yasmin Poole has a vision of a world where women of colour are better represented in the societies in which they live, and the Australian National University student has just been given the opportunity to work towards such a dream after being named a 2022 Australian Rhodes Scholar.

The honour, given to only a few Australians, will allow Yasmin to attend Oxford University in London for two years where she plans to study for a Master’s degree in Public Policy and a Master of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Only about 100 students from around the world are named Rhodes Scholars annually, an honour Yasmin describes as life changing.

“It was the craziest feeling when I found out I had received it,” says Yasmin. “It really was beyond my wildest dreams that it would happen. I was hopeful the committee would see my vision, but you never know what will happen.”

Thanks to the Rhodes Scholarship, all Yasmin’s studies and living expenses will be covered during her stay in the UK.

It’s a dream come true for a young woman who grew up in a family without much money to spare.

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“I’m originally from Melbourne, but my mother is from Singapore and my dad is an Aussie so I’m a proud Asian-Australian,” she says.

“Growing up, I was aware I didn’t look like the people who were in politics so I wondered if there was a role for me there.

“My parents never forced me to take a certain path; it was all me. I was driven.

“University was the place I could escape to – my big opportunity so I threw myself into learning.

“I was the one at lunchtime sitting at the oval doing my homework.”

Yasmin has since developed a reputation as a leading voice for her generation, including being named as the 2021 Youth Influencer of the Year by the US-based Martin Luther King Jr Centre. She has also been recognised as The Australian Financial Review‘s ‘100 Women of Influence’, and in the 40 Under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards.

Attending ANU opened a world of opportunities for Yasmin. She vowed then, as she does now, to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way.

Yasmin says she has been inspired by her mother, a nurse who raised three children in far from easy times. She says she also learned about discrimination from a young age.

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“One of the most important things she taught me was to put my head down and try as hard as I can,” says Yasmin.

“She also taught me that no-one should face barriers because of where they’re from. I’ve seen my mother discriminated against – not just racism, but sexism and discrimination based on class.”

Yasmin says it took her a while to find her plan and a way to make a difference, but she believes the March 4 Justice protests about the treatment of women at Parliament House were a trigger.

“I was standing there with these young women and with other women who were protesting the same thing in the 1970s,” she says.

Yasmin believes the road to change starts how government policy is structured, and she is looking towards her time at the University of Oxford to learn how to execute that change. She is also keen for other young women to experience the opportunities she has been given.

“Someone gave me a chance,” she says. “I want the same for other women. We need to invest in some of those brilliant young minds out there.”

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I’ve heard any degree with “studies” in it is a waste of time. She seems smart, how about engineering, medicine or teaching

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