Faces of Rhodes
Landon Webber ′14
Hometown: Baton Rouge, LA
Major: Political Science
Academic interests: Political philosophy, law, American politics, political history, public policy, U.S. education policy and the education reform movement.
Extracurricular activities: Bonner Scholarship Program, Kinney Co-Coordinator for Mentoring and Education, Honor Council, Rhodes Singers, Senior Gift Committee, tutor at Springdale Elementary School, Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, Mortar Board, Omicron Delta Kappa, Delta Epsilon Iota, Mr. Rhodes
Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.
I had been familiar with Rhodes since I was a kid, because my uncle lives in Memphis and always promoted it as one of the places I should consider when applying to college. Because I had visited before, I added it to my list of colleges and visited again (two more times) to make sure. Looking back, I realize now how ignorant I was when I considered what was important to me in making my college decision. My list included several small liberal arts schools like Rhodes as well as larger universities. When it came down to it, the choice was between Rhodes and a relatively large university. I agonized over the decision right up until the deadline. At Rhodes, I had had several in-depth conversations with political science faculty, had spoken to students about joining the mock trial team, and had an offer to join the student body as a Bonner Scholar. I made the decision because of the connection I already felt to the students and faculty members on campus as opposed to the other school I was considering. What I realize now is that I had been sold on Rhodes from the beginning. I appreciate that it combines the rigorous academics and well-rounded community of a small liberal arts college with the wealth of opportunities that abound in Memphis. Both components—the ability to have a challenging, stimulating intellectual experience and the privilege and opportunity to use these classroom lessons in a thriving urban environment—are crucial to why I feel confident that my decision to attend Rhodes was the right one.
How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes College?
I entered Rhodes pretty confident of my major. I had always been interested in politics and the nuts and bolts of policy. In high school, however, I would never have thought of getting as involved in extracurricular activities to the extent that I did. What Rhodes has taught me most is the importance of caring—caring about each paper or project, about my community service work, and about my interactions with others. I began to realize that I cared enough about some aspects of campus life that I wanted to show others why what I cared about was so important and why they should care as well. This is how I started getting involved in leadership on campus and how I have changed the most. Rhodes has pushed me to see the interaction between what I learn and how I act. Students at Rhodes find it important to connect what they are learning in the classroom with what they are actually doing—whether through community service, internships, or campus leadership—on a day-to-day basis.
You’ve worked a lot with education policy through the Kinney Program, the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies, and Shelby County Schools. How have these experiences complemented your liberal arts education?
I originally became interested in education policy through volunteering. I have worked since freshman year as an elementary reading and math tutor at Springdale Elementary School, right near Rhodes’ campus. On my first day at Springdale, I was immediately confronted with the stark difference in my educational opportunities compared with those that the students at Springdale are offered. The question of why these students had to fight against their environment to take advantage of educational opportunities, when I had been encouraged to pursue education from an early age, sparked my curiosity. Sophomore year, I began working on policy research and advocacy with an organization called Stand for Children, working as a summer camp intern for inner-city students with the Boys and Girls Club and coordinating activities for a center for special needs children in China. My senior year, I interned at the central office of the newly unified Shelby County Schools system. I now feel as though I understand perhaps a small piece of the systemic issues that face the public education system in our country, but I want to learn more. I am passionate about seeking ways for every student to receive quality educational opportunities. Without these opportunities and the ability to pursue them, students miss out on developing their full potential. The research I conducted with the one-on-one supervision of faculty members and community leaders in Memphis has enabled me to discover some of the ways that public policy can be used to guarantee a quality education to students. I have worked long and hard on my senior thesis, studying teacher evaluation policy in Memphis-area schools and some of its side effects. This type of independent research has enabled me to take an interdisciplinary approach, involving psychology, urban studies, anthropology, history, and political science, and to use the skills I have gained as a result of my rich liberal arts education for improving education in the community.
You’ve been a member of Honor Council all four years at Rhodes. Describe the importance of this experience.
The Honor Council has been perhaps the most important area of my involvement on campus. I have tremendous respect for my fellow council members and for the help we receive from the faculty and administration. The Honor Council hears and adjudicates all cases of students accused of misconduct, and the fact that students are trusted with holding the student body to high standards of academic and social integrity is a sign of how responsible students at Rhodes are. While every Rhodes student has experienced what it means to be part of the Rhodes “community,” I feel like I have been privileged to play a special part in helping that community preserve and uphold its own ideals. This is an experience few students get to count as part of their college experience.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to continue to help shape public policy and to use policymaking and the law to empower communities to find creative solutions to the problems they face. To this end, I want to pursue joint graduate degrees in political science and law after taking some time to gain work experience in Washington, D.C, doing policy research with a think tank or government agency.