by Daniel McCabe
When chemistry student Shariq Lodhi got the news late last semester, it didn't seem quite real. "I still feel kind of removed from it. It's like, 'I'm a Rhodes Scholar?' That doesn't sound right to me. That's something that happens to other people."
But come this autumn, Lodhi will be packing his bags for England to attend Oxford University, courtesy of the world's most prestigious scholarship. Political science student Lisa Grushcow will be making the same journey. McGill was the only university in Canada to produce two Rhodes winners this year. The scholarship, worth about $24,000 a year, enables recipients to study for two or three years at Oxford.
For her part, Grushcow is excited about attending Oxford. "It's such an amazing place to go to study." Don't expect the school's fabled history to intimidate her though.
The Student's Society of McGill University's vice-president (university affairs), Grushcow has been vocal in supporting those aspects of McGill she finds commendable and in questioning those she disagrees with. She helped champion the creation of special seminar courses for first-year students and has lobbied McGill to set up policies to deal with racial harassment. Grushcow is currently playing a major role in determining the University's future as the only student member of the Macdonald task force examining the feasibility of the options put forward in the Principal's Council's discussion paper, Towards a New McGill.
At Oxford, Grushcow will study Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman world. "I'm very interested in promoting interfaith dialogue," says Grushcow, who wants to be a rabbi. She has already been quite active in getting students to talk to one another about difficult issues. She co-founded a student group that organizes rap sessions in McGill's dormitories on topics such as homophobia and racism. As vice-president (university affairs), Grushcow was instrumental in encouraging students to contribute to SSMU's Making McGill document-a series of student-backed proposals aimed at dealing with the University's goal of maintaining its high academic standards in an era of shrinking budgets.
If Grushcow, who is minoring in Jewish Studies, is successful in becoming a rabbi, she will join a select group. "Three out of the four Jewish denominations have been ordaining women for some time, but there still aren't many female rabbis in Canada. It's slow, but it's coming. I'm certainly not the first woman to decide to do this, but it's not a well-travelled path. That's part of the excitement."
Grushcow has been active in the Women's Union, volunteered in women's shelters, written opinion pieces for the McGill Daily and acted in Shakespearean plays. She revels in taking part in a variety of activities and enjoys uncovering connections between them and her studies.
"Sometimes I'll be involved in something at SSMU and suddenly something I've learned from Greek political philosophy will become very relevant. It's great when that happens and some of my best experiences here are related to things like that. I think it's vital that we look at the connections between things. I'm a big believer in interdisciplinarity and that's my vision of where McGill should be going. Not just at the graduate level, but in undergraduate programs as well."
Lodhi has his own views on McGill's academic offerings. He is one of the students involved in the Atlantis Project, an effort aimed at convincing McGill administrators to try a radically different approach to course offerings. "We'd like to see a complete redrafting of the way courses are presented," explains Lodhi. "Instead of students always being the audience, they would play a much more active role."
Lodhi's group envisions tutorials where students take turns preparing and then presenting research papers. The classes would be small, the workload intense, professors would act as advisers rather than as lecturers, and each course would be worth 15 credits.
When Lodhi isn't in a class wrestling with thermodynamic laws or chemical kinetics, he might be found rowing for the McGill Varsity Crew, competing on the University's cross country ski team or studying cello. He is also involved in an innovative program at the Royal Victoria Hospital's Palliative Care Unit that uses music therapy to comfort terminally ill patients.
"Studies show that people in pain often demonstrate a profound physiological response to music," says Lodhi. He organizes concerts for patients and performs for them. Lodhi has also been involved in an effort at the Montreal Children's Hospital to introduce a program involving in-hospital clowns.
"These programs are popular in Europe," says Lodhi. "The clowns really help the kids to relax in that setting. One of the advantages of going to Oxford will be in seeing some of those programs in action."
Lodhi plans to study politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford before embarking on a medical degree. "I think it's going to be essential for doctors to have a solid grounding in a number of areas-economics, bioethics, politics. Look at what's going on in Ontario, for instance. I'm uncomfortable with the notion of people without any experience in hospitals or in health care deciding what gets cut. Doctors are going to have to be able to take part in public policy discussions."
Both students still have a semester to complete at McGill before going to Oxford. Will it be difficult to stay focused knowing what awaits them in the fall? "There was a brief temptation to drop everything, but there is still so much I want to see get done here before I leave," says Grushcow. For one thing, she'll be pushing the University to become more flexible in allowing non-Christian students some leeway when their assignments conflict with their holy days. Lodhi says it isn't likely that the Rhodes Scholarship will knock him off track either. "I don't know how not to work hard. I don't know how not to worry about exams or assignments."