Rhodes scholar loses place at Oxford University after backstory of poverty and childhood neglect unravels

A Rhodes scholar accused of lying about being neglected as a child has lost her place at the University of Oxford, after it emerged that she is the privately educated daughter of a radiologist.

Mackenzie Fierceton, 24, won the coveted and highly competitive Rhodes Scholarship to study at the university in November 2020.

The University of Pennsylvania graduate student was among 32 scholars to be selected from a total of 2,300 applicants. She claimed she was from a poor background, grew up in foster care and suffered childhood abuse.

However, Ms Fierceton was reported to the Rhodes Trust and University of Pennsylvania by an anonymous tipster who said she was being "blatantly dishonest". 

The source said Ms Fierceton’s mother was a radiologist and she had attended the Whitfield private school in Missouri, where fees are $30,000 (£22,000) per year.

Applicant ‘shared false narratives about herself’

A Rhodes committee concluded that she "created and repeatedly shared false narratives about herself" and used these "misrepresentations" to make her scholarship application more likely to be successful, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

In 2014, when Ms Fierceton was aged 17, she reportedly spent less than a year in foster care after accusing her mother of pushing her down the stairs at the home they shared.

Her mother was arrested for abuse but denied the claim. The charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.

The University of Oxford was contacted for comment. Ms Fierceton is understood to be claiming that she never lied in her scholarship application and is being victimised.

She has now withdrawn from the Rhodes programme and the University of Pennsylvania is investigating.

The Rhodes Trust’s scholarship programme was set up in 1903 to give talented students around the world to study at Oxford. 

Bill Clinton, the former US president, and Tony Abbott, the former Australian prime minister, are among the world leaders to have historically been awarded the scholarship.

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