Isra Bhatty’s academic prowess is obvious: she graduated from the University of Chicago, spent time at Princeton and is in law school at Yale.

But Bhatty thinks she was chosen as a Rhodes scholar this weekend because she is just as likely to be working with prisoners, playing football or writing poetry as hitting the books.

“I think Rhodes looks for well-rounded people,” she said. “And I have interests from hip-hop to football to being nerdy.”

Bhatty, 23, of Glenview was one of three U. of C. students and the only Illinoisan selected this weekend for the prestigious scholarship, which provides two or three years of study, all expenses paid, at Oxford University in England.

With three recipients, the U. of C. tied Stanford University for the highest number of student recipients this year. In all, 32 nationwide were selected from 764 applicants.

“I’m a little overwhelmed by it,” Bhatty said.

Bhatty, who graduated from the U. of C. in 2006, is now in her first year of law school at Yale University. She’ll travel across the Atlantic to study social interventions, with a focus on programs for people of color, immigrants and substance abusers, she said.

In England, she’s looking forward to working with the country’s South Asian and Muslim populations.

“I’ve never liked doing more with books than humans,” Bhatty said.

While a student, she was chairwoman of the Inner City Muslim Action Network, visiting prisons and working on behalf of immigrants. She also translates for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, working electronically and by phone. Her parents are originally from Pakistan, she said, and she speaks fluent Urdu.

While her passion in college was criminal justice reform, Bhatty, a huge Chicago Bears fan, also organized a women’s football team. A hijab-wearing female player garnered some double takes, she said, especially when onlookers “saw that I was actually good.” (MORE)


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