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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Fatimata Cham ’23 wins coveted Truman Scholarship

Cham hopes to pursue a Master’s Degree in Global Gender Studies. (Photo courtesy of Fatimata Cham ’23)

Fatimata Cham ’23 has worn many hats over the course of her college career. She has participated in everything from environmental activism to poetry, gained accolades such as the Emerging Leader Award and most recently, appeared in an episode of Malala Yousafzai’s docuseries “Dear…”

Now, Cham can add the Truman Scholarship to her many honors. 

The Truman Scholarship is a prestigious, highly competitive award open to college juniors “who are change agents,” Associated Dean of Advising and Co-Curricular Programs Julia Goldberg said. 

The scholarship asks that students “have a record…[of] leadership and public service,” she continued. 

According to the Truman Foundation’s website, the award was conceived as a “living memorial” to President Harry S. Truman, who “often spoke about the importance of promoting young leaders.” The scholarship includes $30,000 to be put towards graduate study anywhere in the world and can be combined with other scholarships.

Goldberg explained that the two-tiered application process begins with a campus application, which Cham submitted this past December. Schools can nominate four students for the scholarship each year. 

“Once the applications are submitted, Truman has a national selection committee where they read all the applications, and then they go to the districts,” Goldberg said.

As a South Bronx native, Cham was considered in a district that included New York and Rhode Island. She is Lafayette’s second-ever Truman Scholar, after Savanna Touré ’21 became a recipient in 2020.

President Nicole Hurd was first notified of Cham’s success in the Truman application cycle and was tasked with delivering the news to her.

Cham described attending a class with Government and Law Professor Joshua Miller before the class was put in smaller groups, which gradually migrated outside. When Cham joined her peers outside on the steps of Kirby Hall, she found President Hurd speaking to the class about a “young lady” amongst them. She then heard President Hurd mention an application and the date April 14, the day that other applicants were to be notified of the status of their Truman application. 

That’s when Cham realized she was the “young lady” in question.

“I just sat down, I started crying,” Cham said. “And then…[Hurd] came with flowers and….gave me the flowers.”

“I think I told my mom first because I talked about her a lot in my application. She’s from the Gambia and she never got a chance to like go to school or anything like that,” Cham said.

Cham, who is a low-income and first-generation college student, knew that securing an opportunity like the Truman Scholarship would be essential to achieving her goal of obtaining a Master’s Degree in Global Gender Studies. 

With such a degree, Cham hopes to pursue “something related to international affairs so that I can potentially work with a UN organization, or start my own organization related to combating issues of early childhood marriage and gender inequity because those are issues I see happening a lot in my own community.”

Addressing early childhood marriage became a crucial element of Cham’s application, which required the submission of a policy proposal.

 “A lot of people don’t know [childhood marriage] is a huge issue here in the US. It’s still legal in like forty states. [There are no] safeguarding systems in place,” Cham said.

“So my policy goals are really just trying to figure out how we can get more funding into services like [child protective services]…working on having a more centralized data collection system that tracks these cases because we honestly don’t even know how many actual cases we have in the U.S.”

Goldberg said that Cham’s success came as no surprise. She pointed to Cham’s extensive involvement in organizations like Pard Pantry, Student Government and Dear Lafayette, as well as her passion for education access, gender and environmental equity, poetry and serving her community back home. 

“She sees an injustice, she goes after it,” Goldberg said.

This summer, Cham, who studies Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies as well as Government & Law, will be involved in diversity, equity and inclusion work as an intern at Bloomberg. Through the Truman Scholarship, she could also take advantage of the foundation’s Summer Institute to work with Plan International, an organization providing planning and legal support addressing childhood marriage and gender inequity. 

When she is not otherwise occupied, Cham enjoys hanging out with her friends, watching period dramas like “Bridgerton” and eating downtown at local favorites like Tandoor.

Cham encouraged students interested in applying for the scholarship one day to search for scholars from their districts and solicit their advice and feedback. 

“Even if you don’t even get to make it to be a finalist, I think the process itself is the most impactful part, because I feel like it allowed me to really reflect on like my journey, what I’ve done, or communities I’ve contributed to, really think about…what I want to see myself doing,” Cham said.

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Maya Nylund, Staff News Writer

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