Mellon Forums

What is a Mellon Forum?

Mellon Senior Forums at Branford College seek to foster in our Seniors the sense of belonging to the community of scholars. Organized in the form of dinner meetings to which both Seniors and their advisers are invited, they provide some of our most talented students the opportunity to present the results of their independent research projects. The Forums also offer the possibility of especially close interaction between the Head of the College, the Dean, and Branford Seniors in comfortable and intimate surroundings. Branford holds a number of Senior Forums in the Spring semester. After dinner is served, two students deliver research papers, usually fifteen minutes in length, to an audience of fellow Seniors. Attempts are made to cover a wide range of topics in various branches of the Humanities, the Social Sciences, and the Natural Sciences. Each paper is immediately followed by a lively and intense question and answer period which permits the Senior to clarify (and perhaps modify) his/her critical stance.

Branford’s Mellon Forum coordinators are HOC De La Cruz, Dean Insley, and resident fellow Steve Blum. Each senior participating in the Forums are matched with one of our Graduate Affiliates who mentor them. An info session is held in the Fall semester for those seniors interested in participating. 

What is the Mellon Forum schedule for Spring 2023?

The schedule will be announced in late fall 2022. A Mellon Info Session will be held on September 21, 2022 for those interested in presenting.


Edie Abraham-Macht
“The Critical Race Theory Debates Through History and Through Teachers’ Eyes”
In my presentation, I will be contextualizing the current debate over critical race theory (C.R.T.) within a longer history of the culture wars’ (the American-values-based struggle between the political right and left) fury over American history curricula. Against this backdrop, and drawing on findings from interviews, I will discuss how high school American history teachers in states where C.R.T. is a hot-button issue are negotiating this new wave of the culture wars. The goal of my project is to center teachers’ perspectives on a cultural phenomenon which, although it drastically affects them, they are not generally given the space to theorize on.

Andrew Benz
“Analyzing Biological Networks with Spectral Graph Theory”

Interactions in biological systems are often described using networks. The mathematical theory of networks, known as graph theory, has played a key role in developing methods for analyzing and visualizing these biological networks. In this presentation we will look at novel applications of spectral graph theory, a subfield of graph theory, to biological network analysis.

Rachel Calcott
“Fault Lines & Foreign Neighbors”: Xenophobia in the Rainbow Nation

In 2008, a series of xenophobic riots displaced thousands and brought international attention to anti-immigrant sentiment in South Africa. This thesis combines insights from social psychology with creative nonfiction to investigate the causes of xenophobia in contemporary South Africa, and how it continues to impact lives and communities. Through reporting on a xenophobic riot in my hometown in Limpopo, South Africa, I consider the ways in which our history and fractured national identity have led to the present crisis, and the shared beliefs that might offer a way out of it.

Mary Chen
“Pipelining the Movement: An Analysis of Mobilization and Tactical Strategies of the Anti-Pipeline Movement”

Many oil and gas pipelines traverse through Indigenous lands and disproportionately produce environmental hazard risks for rural communities, communities of color, and low-income populations. Leaks and spills from pipelines create further economic and environmental incentives for people to protest the construction and operation of pipelines, demanding the shutdown of these energy projects. Some operate under traditional strategies of social mobilization to organize protests, while others turn to more radical tactics like sabotage. The key research question asks under what conditions do social movements successfully shut down the construction and operation of pipelines, and conversely, what does not. Specifically, what are the effective and ineffective strategic tactics of social mobilization in the pipeline movement?

Gabrielle Colangelo
“Tantalizing Fragments”: Lesbian Autobiography as Archive Theory in Woolf and Dobson

This thesis combines a literary and biographical analysis of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando with original archival research on Silvia Dobson’s A Mirror for a Star, a Star for a Mirror, an unpublished manuscript at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It asks: what is the relationship between archives and feeling; absence and longing? In doing so, it aims to uncover moments where lesbian artists created a new archival method purpose-built for their identities, recognizing imperial cisheterosexual historical conventions- namely, the reliance on empirical proof and rejection of imagination- as insufficient to capture the truth of queer lives and relationships.

Alara Degirmenci
“Room Advisor: Building a Review Platform for Yale Residential College Rooms & Psychogeographies: Rethinking Relationships to Places Through Personal Cartographies”

For my computer science thesis, I’m building a web app where students can rate and review dorm rooms to help Yale College students choose their rooms by providing transparent and useful data in an intuitve interface. For my graphic design thesis, I am creating a series of posters and zines that explore the unique meanings, emotions, and experiences we associate with places on campus.

Elea Hewitt
“Resilience and Climate Preparedness in the Willamette Valley, Oregon: An exploration of history, community, agriculture, and land management strategy”

Study of the natural and human history, settlement, development, agricultural practice, and current community attitudes of the Willamette Valley region. Seeks to identify viable routes for transition toward alternative food production practice, resulting in greater sustainability, increased resiliency in the face of climate disaster, and improved community health.

Kari Hustad
“Marie: The Short Film”

Marie is a senior thesis short film for the Film and Media Studies Major. The film follows Marie, an ambitious low-income college student, after she finds her wealthy roommate dead in her dorm room, and must recount the story of their tumultous relationship to a detective.

Andrew Jackson 
“Exploring the Effect of Bacteria-Bacteria Interactions on the Behavior of Model Organism C. elegans: a Study of the Gut-Brain Axis”

The gut-brain axis is a prominent area of study of which researchers are looking to gain a better understanding. Due to the complexity of the human system, nematode worm C. elegans is used to study how gut microbes interact with each other and with their host. Further characterization of the gut-brain axis in C. elegans could open a world of new avenues in researching the link between human behavior and our gut microbiomes in the near future.

Gabriel Klapholz
“Holocaust Memory in the Oslo Accords and its Aftermath”

I will be presenting about my Senior Essay for the History major, an examination of the role of Holocaust memory in shaping Israeli political discourse around the Oslo Accords. I look at how memories of the Nazi past play into Israeli narratives on the right and left, with a particular focus on print journalism. The ultimate goal of the project is to study the meaning of the Holocaust for those who look back at it from the distance of the present: the multiplicity of moral and political conclusions it can offer for those that bear the weight of its memory today.

Luis Leon Medina
“De-Platforming Radical Groups: The Case of Incels & the Manosphere”

Since 2014, there have been at least eight mass atrocities in the name of the inceldom movement. Through a review of the banned subreddit r/incels & the wider Reddit manosphere, Luis explores what happens when a group is banned- where they go and how they change.

Alex McGrath
“The Rise and Influence of State Solicitors General”

Over the course of the past few decades, all but nine U.S. states and territories have created legal offices specializing in appellate advocacy. While the names vary, most call these offices some version of the title ‘solicitor general.’ My thesis accounts for the rise of these offices and tracks their efficacy in representing the interests of their states before state and federal appellate courts.

Jeremy Otridge
“Racialized Disability: How Race Colors Perception of Disability”

This seeks to understand how interpersonal racism may contribute to racial disparities in federal disability programs. I analyze the role of race and other demographic variables in how people perceive disability and qualification for government assistance.

Natasha Partnoy
“Acting is Reacting: Empathy and Environment as a Foundation for Actor Training”

For my thesis project, I am working on creating a new acting pedagogy that uses two different practices as its foundation: 1) empathetic observation of other people and 2) attention to environments, both physical and imagined. I will argue for the necessity of this new acting method from both a social and an artistic standpoint, supporting my argument with historical and aesthetic research, interviews conducted with theatre professionals, and my own experiences as an actor and teacher. 

Julia Sanderson
“How Social Categories of Ex-Offenders Influence Public Evaluation and Forgiveness”

Ex-offenders face stigma when reentering society, making assimilation a challenge. Because of this, it is important to understand how and if the public can update their impressions towards ex-offenders. Prior research shows that while people can update explicit attitudes towards ex-offenders and claim forgiveness, implicitly they still hold negative attitudes. In this project, I explore how social categories of ex-offenders influence the public’s explicit and implicit attitudes towards ex-offenders, and how the public forgives.

Kai Shulman
“Daniel Callahan, James M. Gustafson, and the Origins of a Communitarian Bioethics”

Daniel Callahan founded the Hastings Center, a leading bioethics institution, in 1969, shortly after leaving the Catholic Church. To better understand the Hastings Center’s approach to bioethics, I retrace the steps of early progenitors of the field. Through exploring the archives of Protestant theologian James M. Gustafson, in addition to Callahan’s personal and academic writing throughout the 1960s, I explore whether the convergence of Callahan and Gustafson’s thinking in the founding of the Hastings Center established a Communitarian stream of bioethics- one shaped by Gustafson’s Protestant worldview.

Natalia Taylor
“Exploring Fat Expansion in Mice as a Model for the Development of Obesity in Humans”

Obesity is defined as the excessive accumulation of adipose tissue. It is associated with many other diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Mouse models are an excellent tool to study the molecular mechanisms of fat expansion. Through the use of various knockout mouse models, we have determined that leptin, estrogen, and specific fatty acids play important roles in the development of obesity. Understanding these factors and their underlying mechanisms will help us gain insight into how humans can regulate weight gain and treat obesity.

Audrey Yeung
“Deep Dive into Memory Formation: Effects of Bcl-xL Inhibition to ATP Synthase Efficiency in Hippocampal Plasticity”

The road to making long-term memories is longer and more complicated than you might think. This project aims to elucidate the roles of Bcl-xL and other essential proteins local to hippocamal mitochondria during long term potentiation (LTP), which is the primary mechanism for memory formation in the brain. We investigate the effects of Bcl-xL inhibition on downstream events that are required for subsequent protein synthesis and phosphorylation events essential to LTP.