Power of stories

Atiya McGhee plans to spend the fall in South Africa, studying issues of identity that arise from racial segregation.

McGhee won an award from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program to support a semester-long exploration of South African society, from Cape Town and its Langa Township to the predominantly Afrikaans city of Stellenbosch and the KwaZulu-Natal province to the east.

“I’m excited,” said McGhee, who is a Wheaton Posse Scholar. “I’m tired of reading about South Africa; I’m looking forward to seeing it.”

A major in creative writing and literature, McGhee is deeply interested in the ways in which segregation shapes identity and how these perspectives are reflected and influenced by literature.

Her interest in the narratives of segregated communities arises from her childhood, growing up in a creative community in the Bronx.

“In South Africa, I want to study how people’s own self-identification changed with time,” McGhee said. “I saw the power creative writing has in redefining my community and I believe it has the same power elsewhere.”

McGhee plans to test her ideas by conducting interviews with local residents, artists and authors in a range of communities. Toward that end, she is learning the Afrikaans and Xhosa languages.

She is the fourth Wheaton student to win a Gilman Scholarship this year. Three other members of her class won awards from the Gilman program earlier this year to fund study in Egypt, Brazil and Spain. 

The Gilman Scholarship program aims to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad as well as the countries and regions to which they go by supporting undergraduates who might not otherwise participate because of financial constraints. Sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, the program is intended to help prepare U.S. students to play meaningful roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world.

When she returns to campus in the spring, McGhee plans to further the goals of the Gilman scholarship program by sharing her experiences in South Africa with the campus community and by organizing a workshop to assist other Wheaton students in applying for scholarships to underwrite study abroad experiences.

Active in campus affairs, McGhee is involved in a range of programs at Wheaton, serving as a resident assistant in the dorms, a leader for the college’s first-year student orientation, a trainer for Wheaton’s Safe-Zone program and an ambassador for the Admission Office.

Since 2000, 170 Wheaton students have won prestigious international scholarships, such as the Rhodes, Marshall and Fulbright awards. Wheaton continues to rank among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the nation, when it comes to preparing students to win Fulbright Scholarships for advanced study and work abroad.