Ilina Logani doesn’t consider herself a scholar. Despite this, the 23-year-old and self-described “literature nerd,” “code monkey” and runner became one of only a few Spokanites to have earned the title of Rhodes scholar when her name was called this year.
Logani, a 2018 graduate of Gonzaga Prep and a 2022 graduate of Columbia University in New York, was among 32 Americans who earned the prestigious, full-ride scholarship to the University of Oxford in England.
“When I think of a scholar, I think of the people who are dedicating their life to academic work. Academia is a tool to get where I want to be,” said Logani, who is in the process of formally applying to Oxford. “I’m really interested in policy work.”
Logani graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics with honors in May and is currently an economic research fellow at Chicago University’s Harris School of Public Policy. She also studied literature. Her interest in economics stems from her firsthand experiences of racial inequity in high school as a woman of color and the daughter of Indian immigrants, she told The Spokesman-Review over a cup of tea at First Avenue Coffee in mid-December.
“To be quite frank, going through a lot of increased racial animus around 2015, 2016 and 2017, that played out in ways that were very overt, very physical, very violent sometimes, and very emotionally volatile at Gonzaga Prep, but across Spokane,” Logani said. “It caused me to think a lot about what schools are supposed to be, what schools are supposed to accomplish and achieve and which students have access to things that other students do not – whether that is a sense of safety, a sense of mentorship, or very basic things like certain classes or access to certain resources.”
Growing up in an overwhelmingly white city forced her to put her racial identity at the forefront, Logani said. It also subjected her to racial slurs.
“How do you expect to grow as a human being in a system that makes you feel unwelcome every day?” she asked.
But those experiences surrounding her education also made her consider other, big picture questions.
“You can’t talk about education without talking about housing, without talking about poverty,” Logani said. “I will say, education is my major interest because I think it is fundamental to democracy and it is very fundamental to how we, as a nation – or on a microlevel as a city – think about the citizens we are and how we interact with the people around us and our responsibilities to the communities we live in,” she said. “I think that’s all a part of this bigger question of access.”
Logani applied for the Rhodes scholarship the same month she graduated from Columbia. It was a six-month process that included multiple rounds of interviews and essay-writing. The application process also made her think about what was going to push her forward and keep her going.
It always came back to the “boots on the ground, interpersonal interactions” and working with communities she cares about, she said – namely, Spokane, which she described as a city “in-between.” It’s not quite a big city, but it’s not rural either, she said.
“Its people are that way, I am that way,” she said. “I see so much potential for growth in this city. I see it as a microcosm of a lot of places in America.”
Logani was selected as a recipient of the Rhodes scholarship for District 14 along with Kaya Evans, of Pocatello, Idaho.
“It was a bit of a blur,” Logani said of the final panel interview. “Now that it’s a reality for me, I’m slowly acclimating to what I get to do at Oxford, what I get to do in Europe for two years, fully paid for. That’s nuts. It’s really exciting.”