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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS We would like to express our most sincere gratitude to the following individuals without whom Mellon Mays could not exist. FACULTY DIRECTOR











Thirty years ago, MMUF was founded to

Working within the confines of academic

address underrepresentation of minority

history presents a problematic: how can we

groups in the professoriate. The composition

love classic tenets of the academy like

of the academy is changing, but its inner

critical theory but still prioritize

workings continue to struggle to catch

accessibility? To me, MMUF has been most

up. As Mellon fellows, we see the next phase

rewarding when it has challenged me to

of academia outside of the ivory tower and

disrupt the artificial barrier between the

moving onto the ground.

academy and public history.

MMUF requires that we ask what it means

In my view, theory and academic

to write about marginalized communities if

conventions can still beget access, as long

those whom we write about will never read

as we allow it to. As scholars, we can

our work. How can we contribute to the

write erudite papers; as Mellons, we can

breakdown of institutions that have kept us

also transform our work into a digestible

out of places like the academy, if we

read without losing intellect.

continue to ascribe to an outdated rulebook?

Mellon Fellows occupy the space between academy and community. The future of the

We comprise the next generation of

academy, the way I see it, hinges upon an

scholars. We’re challenging old

expansion into a public purview. MMUF

methodologies and epistemologies. We

means innovating beyond the professoriate,

want to produce readable scholarship and

and into the homes of the communities

gain legitimacy through our ideas, rather

from which we came; our love of

than the mastery of an obtuse academic

scholarship will stay informed by our love for


our communities.


LETTER FROM THE NEW DIRECTOR Hear from Dr. Zafar after her first year as MMUF Director


MENTORSHIP & MMUF Kiara Sample speaks with her mentor Professor Jonathan Fenderson


ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT Mimi Borders interviews her sister and MMUF alum, Candace Borders


MEET THE FELLOWS Learn about the fellows' projects and meet the newest MMUF class

LETTER FROM THE NEW DIRECTOR Professor Rafia Zafar This past Fall, Dr. Zafar became the new director of the MMUF Program, only the fifth person to hold this position in the program's twenty-six year history at Washington University. Hear from her about her experience as a mentor and director.

In July 2017 I embarked upon the

avail herself of such a possibility during her

culmination of my years of mentoring

undergraduate years, although my alma

Washington University undergraduates when

mater, City College of New York, has had its

I stepped into the role of faculty director of

own MMUF cohort for some years now. As a

the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship

former public university student commuting

Program. As the incoming head of African &

and working at the same time I pursued my

African American Studies in 1999 I had

BA, I marvel how the Mellon program

looked forward to helping build the

provides an intellectually intimate space for

program. Yet I also reveled in the

undergraduates and supports them

opportunity to join a university allowing me

logistically and financially if they plan to

Dr. Zafar as featured in Marvel Comic's Psi Force #14, December 1987

to build relationships with individual

continue on to doctoral studies. I truly

students, a rare option during my previous

believe if there had been a MMUF program

position at a large state flagship. While I

at City when I was a student there-and if I

took on my first Mellon advisee not long

had gotten my act together to apply and

after my arrival at the university in 1998, I

been admitted!-my path to the professoriate

also built experience working one on one

would have been simpler, faster, and greatly

with undergraduates doing research

enriched by a cohort of similarly minded

during my years as Director of the Honors

young scholars. Many of my former MMUF

Program in the English Department. The

mentees who I have been privileged to

MMUF program is of particular interest to

teach during my time in St. Louis have gone

me as a faculty member who could not

on to their own university posts. MELLON • 6


The work of the scholar is easy in many ways. We

curiosity and drive to answer a question that has

read the work of those that have come before us,

never been asked or give an answer that has never

engage with it as loosely or as extensively as we

been considered.  

see fit, and either build on or refute the work that our predecessors have produced. As novices in

Regardless, the scholarship that we constantly

academia, the Mellons occupy the space between

produce does not solely belong to us. It belongs to

originality and mimicry. We learn our respective

the scholars we built upon or contested against. It

fields and methodologies while simultaneously

belongs to those people we might have

producing original work. We hope—and I believe I

interviewed or studied. It belongs to the authors

am correct in stating this—that our work circulates

we might have studied. It belongs to the

not only in academia, but also among more

communities that have raised and supported us

quotidian circles.

because they have influenced our way of seeing the world. We are subjects of translation because

But as we read the work of scholars whose names

it is our interpretation of everything that has

are only recognized within academic circles, as we

occurred throughout our lives that have led us to

dive into theory that has taken us years to fully

produce our current projects.

comprehend (and even more to produce), as we seek to (re)discover the work of authors lost in

At the same time, every single one of us in

history we are faced with the dilemma of

academia that works to give a voice to groups of

accessibility. How do we make our work accessible

people that have historically been marginalized is

to those outside of academia? We translate our

a translator. Translation, coming from the Latin


words trans (on the other side of) and latio (rendering) is a term that should be present in all

In the process of translation, we close the space

parts of academic discourse. After all, that is what

between the academic and the non-academic.

scholars aim to do. We thrive on dialectics. The

We do so because of a deep desire to do some

work of the scholar is easy in many ways, but

good in a world that is plagued with

where we are lacking, where we need to thrive in

discrimination and inequality. Of course, our

order to open the reach of our discourses is in the

individual projects were born out of each fellow’s

translatability of the scholarship we produce.


Mentorship and Mellon Mays An interview by Kiara Sample with her mentor and Professor in African & African American Studies Jonathan Fenderson HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH MMUF? I really like it because I think it's a program that allows you to work really closely with the student and see their work through every stage of the process. Often times when we're teaching we don't have the space and time to work in such great detail with somebody and see their project through from the beginning to the end. So in that way, Mellon is a really rewarding experience because you get to see somebody come up with an idea, watch that idea germinate, and then actually grow into a full blown project. It allows us to give the kind of attention to students that I think all students deserve, but can be very difficult to do.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THE NEW MELLONS AS THEY MOVE FORWARD AS SCHOLARS? I would say the biggest thing that they should be aware of is being conscious of how important time management is. Not just the daily time management of making sure you're progressing your project everyday, but also thinking about a clear research plan and agenda for your full two years in the program. Take advantage of their summer time because that's when you can get a lot of research done, and that means you can spend the full time writing during your senior year. I would also encourage the Mellons to always bounce their ideas off of multiple people because I think it makes for a more robust and innovative project.

HOW DO YOU HOPE TO GROW AS AN ADVISOR AND MENTOR? I've had an excellent time as an advisor working with you, Kiara-- you're somebody who is very hard working, who is great at time management, and who came to me with her own ideas. At the same time, I learned a lot from working with you as my first Mellon mentee. I tell you all the time that you were a bit of a guinea pig. So I've learned a few lessons from working with you--to really use the summer time to make a lot of headway on the project, and include faculty's feedback as early as possible. You had a full draft of your thesis before any other faculty members saw it although I had multiple edits. Next time I would encourage other faculty members to read your drafts so you can get feedback from multiple sources while you work on your project. We also met every single week, and I thought that was productive, but I also have to be clear that not everyone works in the same style. So I've learned that I have to be flexible and try to understand the mentee's work style and try to fit into it instead of forcing them into my own style. MELLON • 8

SCHOLARSHIP THAT TRANSCENDS BORDERS Clayton Covington One of the most unique components of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program is the opportunity to attend the annual MMUF Midwest Regional Conference, hosted on a rotating basis by one of the seven Midwest MMUF programs, in the fall. Hosted at Carleton College in Northfield in 2017, Minnesota, this conference gave us the opportunity to present our research and network with other fellows from the other six institutions in the consortium. As future academics, the conference also provided insights from previous fellows about how to best navigate our personal and professional development while in graduate school and beyond.  After the opening remarks, the conference began with a keynote from Dr. Jonathan Rosa, an Assistant Professor of anthropology and linguistics at Stanford University and former Mellon Mays Fellow. His presentation focused on the exchange between racial stratification, linguistic stigmatization, and how these two forces perpetuated educational

We created a support system that allowed us to maintain our academic ambitions inequities. Not only did Dr. Rosa captivate us with his research, but also, he offered sound advice about graduate school and academia more generally, highlighting some of his highs and lows. The following day we all followed Dr. Rosa’s lead by giving our own research presentations on panels with 2-4 presenters. These panels were helpful because they created a space for us to practice conveying our ideas to our peers across disciplines. Additionally, we received feedback from established scholars in the field that helped to highlight our strengths as young scholars and to reframe our thinking in order to fill the gaps in our projects. In many ways, the conference mirrored the work that we do as fellows in our weekly seminar at

Washington University, but it expanded this work to allow for community building across an even more diverse group of people and ideas. Ultimately, the Midwest Regional Conference gave us a taste of the work that many of us will do as future members of the professoriate. During our time as fellows, it can be easy to forget that our community extends beyond Washington University. In a weekend, however, we were reminded of this larger community. The conference opened the possibility for us to discuss both our scholarship and our struggles as underrepresented minorities in predominantly white institutions. Through confronting these harsh realities together, we created a support system that allowed us to maintain our academic ambitions, and it equipped us with the tools to construct a space for ourselves in the academy. This community, and our scholarship, transcends borders. We look forward to similar experiences at Grinnell College next fall!   MELLON • 9

Mellons Abroad ADON WADE-CURRIE ON HIS SEMESTER IN OXFORD, ENGLAND What has been most striking about my time thus far at the University of Oxford with the OPUS program is that at once I have found the city of Oxford both familiar and alienating. Oxford, being a college town reminds me so much of my native Boston, home to so many universities. The way Oxford bustles with pedestrians at nearly all times of the day, even at the city’s periphery, also reminds me of home. And yet I have found the experience of being a black student in Oxford to be jarring at times. I have never felt mistreated for my skin color here, but there is a sense that race is not so important to people in Oxford as it is to those in the United States, so black communities and spaces, which are so integral to my life back home and at Wash U, have seemed difficult to come by. And of course, the … of race is not the same as the absence of racism, thus I have found myself frequently interrogated and tailed by store clerks and talked down to by a few professors. Although racism quietly persists in Oxford, and I’m sure much of England, there is something enviable in the lack of hostility and separatism I have witnessed between students of varying races, ethnicities, and nationalities. Navigating Oxford’s racial dynamics when I have become so accustomed to American racial politics and divides has been an interesting challenge. Nevertheless, attending the University has given me access to a vast number of academic resources that are aiding in my Mellon research which focuses on generational shifts in underground hiphop. Aside from Oxford’s tremendous library systems and online databases, I have been able to take my first course on hip-hop music and meet some emerging scholars in underground musics. Most importantly, the relative ease of moving around Europe and the long break between the University’s trimesters, is giving me plenty of time to travel and see some underground hip-hop artists touring across Europe. Although I won’t get to see any of the artists who are central to my research while here, I am learning a lot about the differences between recorded and performance musics in underground hip-hop.  




Candace Borders graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2017 with a BA in American Culture Studies. As a Mellon Mays Fellow, she used oral histories and Black feminist theory to understand Black women's experiences living in St. Louis's Pruitt-Igoe housing project. She is currently the PNC Arts Alive Diversity Fellow at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis. In the fall, Candace will be attending Yale University in pursuit of a joint PhD in American Studies and African American Studies.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR? I originally intended to apply to graduate

WHAT DID YOU LEARN DURING YOUR GAP YEAR? My gap year gave me more clarity on my

school during my senior year of college, but

research interests and future goals. I learned

felt really overwhelmed with classes and

that a 9-5 schedule is definitely not for me. I

writing my thesis. I realized that I needed to

miss the freedom that comes with an

take a break from school. I was also

academic schedule. More personally,

interested in doing something non-

I learned how to live by myself and

academia for a year and had always

what it's like making friends when

been interested in nonprofit work and

you're not in school (it's hard)..

cultural institutions like museums. I wanted to know what else was out there for me. I think it's easy to get caught up in what you think is the "right" path to a PhD, but taking a break was what was best for me. HOW DID WORKING AT THE CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM INFLUENCE HOW YOU APPROACH YOUR RESEARCH? After graduating, I interned with the African American Intellectual History Society's blog, Black Perspectives, which invites historians to write blog posts connecting the past to

WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN TEN YEARS? I see myself happy, whole, and thriving. I want to be doing what I love, surrounded by a supportive community, feeling like I am actually making a difference in the lives of those I study. I see myself working as a professor or potentially working at the Smithsonian. Either way, I see myself centering Black women's voices and experiences in the work I do.

contemporary events. I helped format and copy edit posts, and published a post I wrote about Pruitt-Igoe. After that internship, I was fortunate enough to get the fellowship at the CAM. I have always been interested in contemporary art, and Black contemporary art specifically, as well as ways that museums serve and engage their communities. During my fellowship, I have been working to bring more African-American audiences into the museum in an initiative called 1-Mile Radius. I have been researching what our communities want from CAM and how we can better serve the majority-Black residents living within a mile from the museum. I've started to think more about what it means to situate scholarship towards the public. I became more dedicated to ensuring that my future research is accessible and public-facing, especially in thinking about my role and duty to my interlocutors as an oral historian.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST LESSON THAT MELLON TAUGHT YOU? Not to be intense, but I would not be where I am without Mellon. The support that Mellon provided me (both personally and financially) allowed me to see the professoriate as a tangible possibility. Mellon taught me so many lessons. On a smaller level, I learned how to write a professional email (it actually makes a big difference). I also learned how to give and receive critical feedback and how to support my cohort members. I learned that even when something like writing a thesis seems impossible, I am capable and intelligent and can get it done. Mellon gave me a lot of confidence in the importance of my ideas, my goals, and my ability to pursue high-level scholarship that has the potential to change lives.



EXPLAIN YOUR RESEARCH INTERESTS IN A FEW WORDS. Black womanhood, oral histories, Black feminist theory, geographies.

want to go to graduate school, take a year or two or three or four, doing something else! Everyone has a different path. Also, don't feel like you must be doing something incredibly productive or lifealtering or exciting during your gap year(s). I think that my gap year has been exactly what I needed and wanted, and I really just stayed in St. Louis. The graduate school application process is intense! Use a gap year to, first and foremost, recover from the intensity of undergrad and writing a thesis. Also: focus on the GRE, narrow down where you want to apply, and write your statement of

WHAT'S THE BEST BOOK YOU'VE READ RECENTLY? The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. It's an excellent scifi novel written by an African American woman and all of the characters are Black with kinky hair like mine. DESCRIBE YOUR FASHION  STYLE.

purpose and personal statements. It really does take a lot of time to

Black high-waisted jeans, black turtleneck, black

craft these applications, so try and find a gap-year job or internship

boots, hair in two puffs, everyday. I'm a cartoon

that doesn't take too much of your productive energy. Use this time

character with five outfits that all look the same.

to explore something that you have always been interested in, but maybe didn't have the chance to explore in college.

IF YOU COULD HAVE LUNCH WITH ANYONE WHO WOULD IT BE? To narrow it down to scholars, it would be Joyce Ladner, a sociologist who wrote an incredible book on Black girls living in Pruitt-Igoe.


THE NEW FACES OF ACADEMIA Mellon Mays challenges antiquated tropes of the Ivory Tower and the Armchair Academic. We're ushering in a new era of academia that cares about accessibility and community just as much as publishing and research. We're forcing our voices to be heard.  Get to know us.

Washington University's 24th & 25th Mellon Mays Cohorts from left to right: T-Herbert Jeffrey, Kiara Sample, Ebonie Pollock, Morgan Holloman-Bryant, Savannah Jacobson, Mimi Borders, Clayton Covington, Misael de la Rosa, Adon Wade Currie,


MIMI BORDERS Moral Treason and Black Civil War Widows in the Post-Emancipation Era Denied widows' pensions from the Civil War provide insight into the early welfare state as a regime that policed and surveilled Black women's intimate lives. During emancipation, the Freedman's Bureau and the Pensions Bureau worked as a policing arm to make freed people into citizens through regulations of sexual encounters, labor and raising children. I utilize denied widows' pensions as the foundation for my research, and a method for historicizing freed Black women's decision making processes and sexual choices. I build room within US emancipation scholarship to articulate black women's sexual choice, self-interest, and autonomous desire.

CLAYTON COVINGTON The Buggery Situation: Religion, Law, and the Politics of Jamaican Homophobia Through an examination of legal records, church documents, and other archival data, my project challenges conventional definitions and attitudes of homophobia by tracing instances of homoerotic sexual violence and intimacies among enslaved Africans. My project then analyzes the legal consequences of these instances. Doing this disrupts the alleged antithesis between Blackness and the homoerotic. My project places special emphasis on the documentation of the black queered body by highlighting its existence, and through properly situating this body in context. I hope to contribute to furthering our understanding of Jamaica's complex history with homoeroticism and thus, with homophobia.

MISAEL DE LA ROSA Voice Alchemy: Translation of the Chicano Voice Through Code-Switching Generally, the corpus of studies about or related to translation and poetry can be classified in one of two overall fields: interlanguage or intra-language translation poetry. I propose a third option: the study of poetry as a rawer form of translation that occurs between the self (the author) and the whole (historical moment, culture, personal bias). I draw upon Walter Benjamin's idea of pure language and Lawrence Venuti's regard of the translator's task as the creation of a language within a language that breaks across cultural and hierarchical barriers. The corpus of Chicano Poetry with which I am concerned is that which employs the use of code-switching between English and Spanish within the poem. I look at Alurista's poetry to analyze the way in which the deliberate code-switching functions as the translation of a hybrid culture into writing. MELLON • 14

MORGAN HOLLOMAN BRYANT Bayous, Baby Dolls, and Barrettes: Growing Up as a Black Girl in 20th Century New Orleans, Louisiana Scholarship on the history and creation of girlhood and the culture thereof often erases and misinterprets the narratives and concerns of Black girls. By positioning this project within the context of twentieth century New Orleans, Louisiana, my project aims to begin crafting a diverse, heterogeneous view of Black girlhood that evolves throughout history. I conduct a thorough examination of cultural artifacts and sounds to identify the ways that Black girls have mapped meaning onto objects and experiences that impact their growth and identity formation. My work seeks to challenge the standard ideas and perceptions of girlhood, and aims to deconstruct the ways Black girls have interpreted and contributed to their own subculture and notions of "Black culture" at large.

SAVANNAH JACOBSON "The Evil Centered Around 110th Street": Black Women Sex Workers in Progressive Era New York City, 1904-1928 My project uses the Committee of Fourteen archives, supplemented by trial transcripts to piece together a narrative of the lives of Black women sex workers in New York City in the early twentieth century. I look at how these women conceptualized their own participation in the sex work economy, and how they responded to surveillance that enforced the hegemonic ideas of morality and respectability that characterize the Progressive Era. Ultimately, I aim to show how black women navigated the dangers of the sex work economy–from a community-level, when neighbors reported their business to authorities, up to a national-level, with the codification of laws like the Mann Act–in addition to how sex work created a unique form of entrepreneurship. 

T-HERBERT JEFFREY An Inconsistent Triad: Conflicting Intuitions on the Nature of Suspicion Let WSS be an encounter between a woman and a man on the street where the woman suspects a man will do something harmful, using only the fact that the man is a man as evidence. Let SOS be an encounter between a store owner in his store and a Black man, where the store owner suspects the Black man will do something harmful, using only the fact that he is black as evidence. 1) It is permissible for the woman to cross the street. 2) It is not permissible for the store owner to follow a Black man around his store. 3) The situations presented in WSS and SOS are morally identical. These three statements cannot all be true. If WSS and SOS were morally identical, then one would not be permissible, while the other is impermissible–they would have to warrant the same moral attribution. I critically examine what might be done to make sense of this. 


EBONIE POLLOCK Black Venus: Investigating the Use of the Black Female Nude in the Work of Suzanne Valadon Two paintings, Black Venus and Mulatto Woman Seated with an Apple, painted by the French artist Suzanne Valadon in 1919, form a fascinating pair of portraits. Both paintings address the topics of race and race theory in postcolonial France, feminism in art and the politics of the female gaze, as well as the cultural influences of increasing modernity. Furthermore, both paintings, in their depiction of a Black nude woman as a primary subject and their execution by a self-taught woman artist, break the mold of Western artistic conventions. These conventions generally held that beauty was expressed in terms of the European body and that painted images were only produced by men. The goal of this research is to provide insight into the creation of Valadon's imagery when contextualized within both the cultural setting of early twentieth century Paris and the history of Black female representation in art. 

KIARA SAMPLE Seeing Shadows: Gender, Surveillance, and Black Women Activists Historically, within many social movements, Black women have been discredited, silenced, or reduced to their gender because of patriarchal leadership. Sexism within radical Black movements affect their role and visibility within organizations, so how does it affect their surveillance? My research creates an understanding of the influence of race and gender on the FBI's surveillance of radical Black women. The methods and tactics used by agents under the FBI's Counterintelligence Program is the focus of my research. In the men's files, the content focused on their activity under surveillance, compared to the women, whose associates and broader network were the point of focus. Components of their FBI files such as the language used to describe them, the content included and not included in each file, and the narrative built by the agents and informants, are comparatively analyzed across gender and time starting in the 1940s. 

ADON WADE CURRIE That's a Rap: Breaking Down the Hip-Hop "Underground" This work attempts to examine how nationally recognized hip-hop artists who describe themselves as underground create the musical subculture or counterculture known as the "underground." In the modern era of music consumption, most consumers of hip-hop use the term "underground" to describe an artist's level of popularity and/or commercial success. I am interested in how artists embody the underground. I conceptualize the term "underground" as a set of aesthetics, gestures, and practices. This work examines how the organizational structures, commercial imperatives, and aesthetic choices (clothing, language, etc.) employed by non-local "underground" artists reflect deliberate actions taken up to create the "underground." I argue that many scholars understand the "underground" as a concept that is largely created by the audience and ascribed onto artists, but my aim is to complicate this understanding by addressing the ways that artists produce the "underground," regardless of the audience's opinion. MELLON • 15

THE NEW CLASS Introducing the members of the 26th Mellon Mays Cohort This past March, after the most rigorous application process in the program's history, MMUF selected five outstanding sophomores to comprise the newest class of Mellon Mays Fellows. They're an exciting group of dynamic learners asking unique and innovative research questions. Meet the new fellows.

Amanda Everett

African & African American Studies, Comparative Literature

My project examines the way Black women in the American South received and responded to the ideas of the Black Arts Movement. I will examine the way the Black Arts Movement impacted the everyday lives of these women, as well as how it affected the way they interacted in their local communities and in larger social movements in 1960s and 1970s America.

Theaivin/Yousef Gaber Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies

My project analyzes how colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism operate through our senses. If senses are not objective, but rather distorted and manipulated by our social worlds, then they are inevitably linked to specific historical structures of power. My project seeks to analyze how these sensory regimes have been constructed within the history of modernity.

Nya Hardaway

African & African American Studies, Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies

Exploring how Black women perform sexuality as an expression of freedom through music, my project is focused on the way that Blues music intersected with and impacted the performance of sexuality of working-class Black women during the 1920s-40s. I examine this exhibition of Black women's sexuality as a rejection of oppression and Black middle-class values, and as an embodiment of resilience. 

Taylor Smith

African & African American Studies

In current debates, the politics of representation are often centered on the quotedriven nature of diversity, lacking a focus on the ways to represent Black women that validates and champions their humanity. My project aims to begin to cultivate a conceptual framework of the ways Black women interpret, archive, translate, and replicate stories of the Black interior into consumable media for varying audiences and registers.

Amelle Zeroug History, Political Science

My project examines the impact of class and gender on determining an individual’s involvement in militant revolutionary action by looking at the “Mujahida”; women in the Front de Libération Nationale during the Algerian War who used their gender to carry out attacks on centers of French civilian life in Algiers. MELLON • 16


After 30 years:

of WashU MMUF alumni have received a graduate degree


37 fellows

from WashU have received their PhD or are currently enrolled in a PhD program


of MMUF alumni around the world found a job in higher education upon PhD completion

96 programs

have been created in universities around the world committed to diversifying the academy


The Mellon Magazine '18  
The Mellon Magazine '18