Adaiah Hudgins-Lopez ’18 Receives a Gates Cambridge Scholarship for Graduate Studies

By Rebecca Goldfine
Hudgins-Lopez will start at the University of Cambridge next fall, pursuing a master's of philosophy in social anthropology.
Adaiah Hudgins-Lopez
Ever since Adaiah Hudgins-Lopez studied abroad in Bath, England, during her junior year at Bowdoin, she has hoped to return. “When I left the UK, I said, I'm going to be back here some day.” She was thrilled and surprised when she got into Cambridge, and urges other interested students to not be daunted. “Take the chance and apply!”

She is part of a cohort of approximately eighty-five international students selected to receive this year's scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Twenty-four are from the United States.

Hudgins-Lopez is the first Bowdoin student to win the award, which was established through a gift of $210 million from the Gateses in 2000 to support academically gifted scholars from outside the UK who are committed to improving the lives of others.

Hudgins-Lopez said the mission of the Gates Cambridge program reflected her desire to pursue academic studies that can advance other people's lives. “I want to figure out how to serve people better and help get them to where they want to be,” she said. “That is my focus.”

At Cambridge, where she'll be a member of Trinity College, she'll investigate the relationship between legal systems and immigrant populations through an anthropological lens. She'll study immigration law, the concept of legal consciousness, and how undocumented communities form a collective identity to elevate their voices and promote the autonomy of their people. In particular, she's excited to learn from two scholars she admires: Sian Lazar and Yael Navaro, who will serve as her advisor.

At Bowdoin, Hudgins-Lopez was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and majored in anthropology and English. She worked on an independent project that looked at how storytelling can facilitate communication across differences within the context of school district engagement.

As part of her undergraduate research, she partnered with her father, the head of a school district outside of Detroit, to organize meetings between parents and principals to promote more engagement by families in their local schools. Participants shared how they thought problems could be solved and conflicts resolved, and how schools could get to know students more and serve them better.

Hudgins-Lopez is currently working as an associate for the nonprofit Root Cause in Boston, a consulting organization that partners with foundations, nonprofits, school districts, and public agencies to develop, implement, and measure strategies that improve people's lives. Prior to that, she taught fifth grade in a public school in Atlanta, Georgia, with Teach for America.

She became interested in the lives of undocumented immigrants when she worked as a summer immigration law assistant in 2019 with the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit’s Immigration Services.

She said she was moved and often inspired by the stories of the people she was assisting, and was especially impacted by working with other young people. She remembers wondering: “What does it mean to navigate the world, especially when the place where you live doesn’t acknowledge your existence, at least on paper? And, as a young adult, I am asking myself the same thing—what does it mean to navigate the world—but in such a different context. That's when a lot of my core research questions began to arise.” 

Intellectual Inspiration

Hudgins-Lopez said Bowdoin shaped her path toward anthropology in many ways. "Anthropology didn't feel like this untouchable, unattainable discipline," she said. "It didn't feel too separate from me, and there were real-world applications for the questions I was asking."

Working with Professor of Anthropology Sara Dickey gave Hudgins-Lopez the confidence that she could offer something to the field. "She was supportive of me and my research, and that was the first time I felt like I can do anthropology and contribute to that body of knowledge."

In particular, she was impacted by two books she read in the classes Law, Culture, and Society, with Simon May, a former Bowdoin professor, and in her anthropology senior seminar, with Professor of Anthropology Krista Van Vleet:

  • Getting Justice and Getting Even, by Sally Engle Merry, started her thinking about how our legal system infiltrates and impacts the way we negotiate our everyday relationships.
  • The Land of Open Graves, by Jason de León, influenced her because it looks at "how the US justice system absolves itself from the harm and violence done to undocumented Latinx communities."