2023 Tillman Scholar

Rita Graham

Harvard University
M.S., Public Policy

“We take an oath to defend against enemies, but sometimes the enemies are in our own formations. I want to reform military culture rooted in gender disparity and sexual violence.”

Rita grew up in the suburbs of New York City. In the aftermath of 9/11, Rita felt the call to serve and at 17, her mom signed her enlistment paperwork. Rita graduated with a B.S. in social work from Marist College. She intended to work in early intervention PTSD therapies in combat environments but eventually, her interests shifted. Through Fordham University’s ROTC program, Rita was commissioned as an active duty field artillery officer in the third year the branch was fully open to women.

Rita was first stationed overseas where she had an emphasis on Russian deterrence operations in Eastern Europe. It was there that she started to become aware of blatant gender inequality and systemic climates of sexual assault and harassment. As she rose through the ranks, she continued to struggle to make effective lasting changes when it came to gender issues and incidents related to sexual assault.

Rita left active duty service to attend the Harvard Kennedy School to pursue a master’s in public policy. She aspires to be a senior executive service officer working on gender inclusion policies and reforming the sexual assault and prevention program in the Department of Defense. Rita wants to make the next generation of the military inclusive to all genders through culture and policy reform and make the changes she felt she could not make while serving.