This year, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) at WashU is welcoming its 25th cohort of fellows. The fellowship seeks "to strengthen diversity by addressing the problem of underrepresentation on college and university faculties, MMUF builds its campus programs around the interrelated ideas of scholarly research, faculty mentoring, the cohort effect, and community support networks." The program was brought to WashU’s campus in 1992.
Original undergraduate research is funded through this program, granting fellows the opportunity to pursue projects in the humanities and social sciences that pertain to matters of diversity, identity, and social justice. This program creates an essential space for students to pursue and develop such academic interests, and WashU’s program is unique in that it also includes a weekly credit-bearing seminar led by a faculty member. Faculty Directors have included Gerald Early, Shanti Parikh, and Jeffrey McCune.
Jeffrey McCune, the current director of the program and an associate professor in women, gender, and sexuality studies and African and African-American studies, spoke to this program’s role in encouraging the fellows’ academic pursuits. “Many of the students selected for Mellon show clear signs of readiness for a journey of rigorous reading and training, as well as passion and intellectual verve,” said McCune. “These students are not just scholars, but creative and impassioned folks who exhibit their commitments to communities to which they belong and beyond. What I love is the students’ ability to connect research and community.”
McCune, too, noted the competitive nature of this year’s applicants especially, calling the selected fellows representative of the “rich, diverse, and ambitious nature of the pool.” This particular group, thus, has already made a lasting impression in a program characterized by its excellence in scholarship and activism.
Mary Laurita, the administrative coordinator of the WashU Mellon program since 2000 and an assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences, echoed this sentiment, saying, “Mellon Fellows, without exception, are extremely intelligent, interested in engaging in work that pushes the boundaries of their academic fields, and who learn, over time, to articulate new and complex ideas for a more general public.” She noted, “The program is stronger than ever. Each class brings new and exciting ideas and always amazes those running the program with their ability to conceive of new and important projects to research and with the energy and excitement they bring to their scholarly work.”
Indeed, in a program so noted for its ability to attract such distinguished students, it’s exciting to hear that this year’s cohort is especially notable. This class of fellows’ diverse range of specialized interests is sure to make for rewarding, though rigorous, independent research. Moreover, this class’ enthusiasm, ingenuity, and drive is what will shape WashU’s community.
Meet this year’s cohort below, and hear about their individual academic interests:
Majors: International and Area Studies: Global Cultural Studies and Latin American Studies
Project: Unsettling Homophobia: Homoeroticism as Trauma, Pleasure, and Liberation in Jamaican Slavery
Black individuals, spaces, and entire nations have been characterized as “homophobic”. Due to its numerous failures to protect its LGBTQ citizens today, this narrative appears to be particularly relevant to Jamaica. I, however, am dissatisfied with such sweeping generalizations, and hence, my project analyzes the widely-overlooked nuances of how homophobia was institutionalized through colonialism in Jamaica. Through an examination of literature, personal narratives, and archives, my project challenges conventional definitions and attitudes of homophobia by discerning homoeroticism’s paradoxical power to serve both as a field of domination and as a medium for liberation for enslaved black men. By drawing attention to enslaved black men’s varied experiences ranging from patterned sexual abuse to the deepest of intimacies, I hope to recount this history—unflattened and traumatic—so that it can further understanding of Jamaica’s complex relationship with homoeroticism and thus, with homophobia.
Misael de la Rosa
Majors: Spanish and Comparative Literature
Project: Huelga: Chicano Contestation of the American Monolingual Literature Ethos through Code-Switching
My project examines the way in which Chicano poets employ code-swtiching to create paradigmatic spaces in which the monolingual literature ethos of the US is contested. I will be looking at the Mexican-American, Mexican, and American history in order to gain an understanding of why, when, where, and how these cultures interacted. With this in mind I seek to understand the role that language has played for Chicanos as a source of pride, discrimination, and a tool for resistance.
Majors: African and African American Studies and History
Project: Not My Will, But The Will of The Father: Analyzing How The Black Church & Black Mothers Inflict Emotional and Mental Abuse on Black Girls
My project arose out of a deep concern for the lack of cultural understanding and awareness when discussing the role of Black motherhood and religion in Black culture and community. My research aims to identify and quantify the rates and occurrences at which emotional, mental, and psychological abuse plague Black girls as a result of religious irresponsibility and abuse.
Major: Art History
Project: Subverting the Canon: Suzanne Valadon and the Black Nude in Modern French Art
I plan to examine the two paintings Black Venus and Mulatto Woman Seated with an Apple which were painted in 1919 by the French artist Suzanne Valadon. Both paintings, in their depiction of a black female nude figure and their execution by a self-taught woman artist, defy artistic conventions while simultaneously employing established systems of representation. I plan to analyze the way the paintings function as vestiges of the French academic tradition while engaging the visual language of the avant-garde. Furthermore, I plan to explore the various ways that the cultural milieu of twentieth-century Paris might have influenced Valadon's imagery.
Majors: Urban Studies and American Culture Studies; Arabic minor
Project: Real Southern Hip-Hop: Mitigating the Differences Between Our Conceptualizations of Identity
My project attempts to better understand the social phenomenon of gatekeeping by studying how Southern hip-hop gained legitimacy beginning in the 1990's. By understanding gatekeeping in this context, I seek to begin developing a working theory of how it functions with respect to racial-minority identity groups.