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?

January 17th
Head De La Cruz
Dean Galindo

January 24th

Nico Taylor
“Diagrams in Contemporary Moral Philosophy”

Two case studies exploring questioning including: Why use diagrams in moral philosophy? How do they work? What are some of their advantages, and drawbacks?  Although contemporary moral philosophy abounds in various graphs and diagrams, this recent innovation has garnered few remarks.  My research seeks to remedy this gap in the literarure.  Focusing primarily on two books of contemporary moral philosophy, The Geometry of Desert by Shelly Kagan, and Reasons and Persons by Derek Parfit, I have explored the following questions:

1. What do graphs in moral philosophy represent? Whereas grapjs om the “hard sciences,” like physics, typically represent tangible phenomena, it’s often less clear what moral-philosophical graphs “stand for.”

2. What role do graphs play dialectically and rhetorically? Neither Kagan nor Parfit strictly needs graphs to make his points Yet their work benefits from their inclusion. Why?

3. How does studying methodology help us understand the theories themselves? Stydiying methodology helps us understand theories themselves. For example, that Kagan uses Cartesian graphs already tells us something about how he’s thinking about desert. He did not, for instance, choose a flowchart or a bar graph, or any of the conventional visualizations, each of which is suited to certain situations and not others, owing to the way it orders information. Two-dimensional Cartesian graphs are well-suited to representing a relationship between two variables; a tree diagram is not. Scrutinizing graph images promises to shed light on the tacic structure of thinking that underlies the theories they contribute to.

4. Do graphs “contaminate” ethical intuitions? If one can passably describe rhetoric as the art of influencing intuitions, and graphs exert rhetorical influence, then graphs influence a reader’s intuitions. In the case of ethics, this matters enormously. Intuitions comprise some of the primary material of ethical reasoning.

Catherine Yang
“The Spectacle of Savagery: Chinese Christian Martyrdom during the Boxer Rebellion as Propoganda”

Books published in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion, intended to ‘honor’ Chines Christian martyrs, actually reveal how Missionary societies were using them as a propaganda tool and way to spread anti-Chinese sentiments.

January 31st

Kara O’Rourke
Companionship - Interrogating the Social Mandate of Romantic Partnership”

Companionship was the product of an independent study in playwriting for the English major Creative Writing Concentration this past Fall 2022. This project combined research into the history of surrealist theater, asexual and aromantic lived experiences, and online dating culture in order to critique societal assumptions about a narrow definition of long-term romantic relationships being a universal end goal (called “amatonormativity”). 

The play explores pop culture’s obsession with romance and de-valuing of platonic relationships by following employees at a Cosmopolitan-esque magazine, who might just be a little less lonely if they’d turn to each other rather than always pursuing a Mr., Ms., or Mx. Right. In a city beset by constant rains due to climate change, a city services volunteer, several magazine writers, and a cat must navigate absurdist infomercials, flooded subway tunnels, and the social mandates of partnership to help each other find safety and company.

Corin Katzke
“Taking bets on the end of the world: the Manhattan Project, AGI, and responses to catastrophic risk”
In this project, I draw an analogy between early nuclear research and near-future artificial general intelligence (AGI) research. I analyze early nuclear criticality and testing accidents, and describe the psychological and institutional failures that led to these accidents. In particular, I consider the Louis Slotin criticality accident and the Castle Bravo disaster in the Marshall Islands, as well as how Los Alamos researchers responded to the possibility that the Trinity test would ignite the atmosphere. I argue that these examples show that otherwise extremely competent researchers of nascent technologies can be ill-equipped to respond well to catastrophic risk.

February 7th

Elena Castro
“From Weft to Wall: Textile Design in Latin America”

“From Weft to Wall” is a project which sought to investigate the relationship between weaving practices and the construction of ancient structures in Latin America. The project involved a tour of ancient ruins in the countries of Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru during the summer of 2022, and included visits to indigenous textile museums, weaving villages, and participation in traditional weaving workshops.

February 14th

Amelia Dilworth
“Corporate Influence on the Urban Landscape in Wilmington, Delaware”

Wilmington, Delaware is a city of 70,000 people- but 280,000 businesses are registered here. It’s an overlooked city of unexpected extremes. Analyzing buildings reveals Wilmington’s history of chasing the flow of regional and global capital- eventually becoming the one place where an increasingly intangible and abstract economy is anchored to the built environment. Examining the urban landscape, however, reveals that this survival mechanism comes at an unanticipated cost to the city itself.

Christina Tuttle
“Synthetic Media as Evidence in the Courtroom”

Computer-generated simulations are increasingly used as evidence in criminal trials. Though these simulations may be intuitive in presenting events in a court setting, their production raises questions about access to this technology and the accuracy of crime scene reconstructions. This project explores the technical and political measures necessary to ensure the ethical use of synthetic media in court.

February 21st

Keith Calloway
“Of the People, By the People, and For the People: The Fight for Community Representation at the Connecticut Mental Health Center in the Late 1960s”

The Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC) opened its doors in 1966 with the goal of setting a new status quo for mental health care: treating patients in their communities as opposed to sending them away to asylums for months at a time. As a joint endeavor between the Yale Department of Psychiatry and the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, CMHC sought to integrate itself into New Haven communities and meet patients literally where they were. The center was birthed at the intersection of urban renewal and the Community Mental Health Act of 1963. Embodying the spirit of the concurrent civil rights movement, community members began to ask for representation and speak for their needs. In return, months of crisis and chaos ensued resulting in a significant reduction in the center’s community integration. What happened? Who is this institution meant to serve? Who is in charge of setting the priorities for the center? And how has this conflict impacted services delivered today at CMHC?

Priya Vasu
“BIPOC Student Activism and Leadership in the California Community College’s Participatory Governance System: A Case Study of Foothill College”

California law provides community college students, staff, faculty, and administrators the opportunity to participate in the formulation and development of college policies via a system colloquially known as participatory governance. This original research case study highlights the work of BIPOC student leadership and activism at Foothill College during the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement and discusses how engaged students were involved in directly influencing their institution. Providing historical context and existing literature sheds light on the mechanisms behind student organizing as they relate to higher education governance. Drawing on data from semi-structured in-depth interviews, we explore if including students in participatory governance, especially BIPOC students, is transformative in creating better conditions for students at the institution. Then, we see how BIPOC student organizers attempt to use this system to further their activism, require action from institutions, and hold administration, faculty, and staff accountable. Identifying the limitations of the participatory governance system reveals it as an arm that upholds the status quo, stifling true transformation. This research ultimately lends support to radical institutional recommendations and student organizing mechanisms occurring outside the institution that will more effectively and holistically serve BIPOC students.

February 28th

Clare Chemery
“Teresa of Avila’s Radical Epistemology: Femininity and Authenticity”

When we look at the history of the Roman Catholic Church, we typically see a dearth of women’s voices and experiences. However, one woman, in particular, has persisted and still speaks strongly today - Teresa of Avila. This project seeks to explain Teresa’s power by tapping into the theory of the Feminist Marxist movements of the 1960s and 70s to create a new framework in which we can understand Teresa as a woman, a religious figure, and a political force.

Bryce Morales
“From Extraction to Expansion: Land, Laws, and Settlement in Colonial South Carolina and Georgia”

The territory controlled by European settles in South Carolina and Georgia increased dramatically between 1720 and 1740.  Notable political, demographic, economic, and environmental changes facilitated this process of expansion, shaping the contemporary identity and long-term trajectory of the two colonies.

March 7th

Medha Majety
“Investigating the Immunosuppressive Mechanisms of Regulatory T Cells (Tregs)”

The clinical promise of Regulatory T cells (TRegs) necessitates a deeper investigation into the role of TReg mediated immunosuppression. While TRegs can employ various mechanisms of dampening the immune system through cell extrinsic and cell intrinsic responses, there exist several gaps within our understanding on these mechanisms, the players involved, and the extent of immune down regulation. This thesis project explores one of these mechanisms, CTLA-4 mediated trans-endocytosis, in greater detail and uncover functional regulators through CRISPR screens. In doing so, the elucidated functional regulators will allow scientists to carefully titrate TReg mediated immunosuppression and harness its therapeutic potential in cancer, autoimmune disease, and other disorders.

Alvaro Perpuly
“How Racial Tensions in Cuba affected Racial Tensions in Miami”
Join this Mellon Forum to discuss how racial divisions in Cuba during the 1950s and 1960s helped contribute to racial divisions in Miami. With the rise of Castro, many Cubans fled to Miami. The tense relations that existed between white Cubans and Afro-Cubans in Cuba seemed to influence the tense relations between Cubans and African Americans in Miami.

March 28th

Wen Long Yang
“Virtue Signaling in Corporate Marketing: The Economic and Moral Implications of Green Marketing versus Greenwashing”

The urgent and complex challenges posed by climate change, deforestation, and pollution represent critical threats to both humanity and the survival of our planet. As society becomes increasingly environmentally conscious, sustainability has become the norm for both consumers and companies alike. Consequently, this heightened awareness has given rise to corporate virtue signaling practices, including green marketing and greenwashing.

Examining the role of corporations as economic and moral agents, capable of fulfilling moral obligations while striving to maximize profits, this Mellon Forum will discuss the benefits of green marketing, the dangers of greenwashing, the overall impact of corporate virtue signaling, and the necessary considerations for developing an effective and environmentally-responsible corporate virtue signaling strategy.

Naomi Goodheart
“Right Next to Each Other: Grief and Growth in Clare Barron’s You Got Older

Clare Barron’s darkly comic You Got Older tells the story of Mae, a newly dumped and fired woman who moves home to take care of her sick dad, and can’t stop dreaming of a cowboy. Through peristent rashes, bickering siblings, and sweet-not-spicy peppers, the play explores the ways we find to cope when everything is just a little too much. This presentation will discuss the recent production of this play, its rehearsal and performance processes, and the practical realities of representing grief onstage.

Louie Li

“The Question of Protection: Sino-French Diplomacy and Suzerainty over Vietnam 1874-1885”

The 19th century was a time of rapid European expansion, but it wasn’t entirely carried out at gunpoint—law too became weaponized. Join us to learn about how Imperial China and Republican France used claims of protection and suzerainty to consolidate their influence over Vietnam in the 1880s, studying how European and East Asian understandings of international law interacted with each other. It’s a clash of civilizations!

April 4th

Michael Chen
“Organizing for Migrant Justice: New Haven’s Elm City Resident Card”

This project aims to provide a detailed overview of New Haven’s Elm City Resident Card, the first municipal ID in the country for undocumented immigrants. My thesis aspires to uncover the creation of immigrant “illegality,” the migrant organizing landscape in New Haven, and the lasting effects of this initiative.

Julia Hontaruk-Levko
“Culture Preservation in the Ukrainian-American Diaspora of Cleveland, Ohio”

This Mellon Forum presentation will detail the relationship between community, identity, and engagement as it relates to the Ukrainian-American diaspora within the broader context of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Through a sociological lens, my research seeks to answer why and how individuals become involved in leading cultural organizations in a diasporic community and if that work changes in times of political crises in the homeland, with a case study of Parma, Ohio and the greater Cleveland area. This Sociology senior thesis is an attempt to document these particularities to make the Ukrainian-American diaspora visible in the academic sphere through interviews conducted with community leaders over the last four months, highlighting the stories and trends visible in the work of the Ukrainian-American diaspora at such a pivotal time in its existence.

Sarah Laufenberg
“Thesis Work on Arnold Gesell at the Yale Child Study Center”

My presentation will touch on my year-long thesis work for the program of the History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health. I researched the role Dr. Arnold Gesell played in imparting eugenic logics on the emerging field of child development in the 20th century, while leading the Clinic of Child Development (now known as the Child Study Center) at Yale. My work focuses on various publications and writings obtained from the Arnold Gesell papers at the Library of Congress. This project fits into a broader interrogation of disciplinary inheritance and the foundations of institutional knowledge production. Can we discern the eugenic from the non-eugenic parts of his work and praxis? Is this even possible?

April 11th

Elliot Lewis
“Take This, and Build Something: A Play about Family, Fatherhood, and Time”

“Take This, and Build Something” is a senior project for the English major Writing Concentration. The play follows a family over the course of fifty years, as tensions continually infiltrate and infect long-held family traditions as the decades pass. This presentation will also include components of my senior essay on the work of playwright Eugene O’Neill, whose crafting of the family drama influenced the creation of my own.

Olivia Schlaepfer
“Land and People in Rural Kansas: An exploration of community values, soil health, and environmental conflict”

Poor soil health threatens food security and livelihoods in rural Kansas and beyond. Yet, despite an abundance of scientific, policy, and economic evidence, conflicts persist between scholars, policymakers, and rural communities. This project explores an aspect frequently overlooked—the deeper moral roots that underlie environmental decision-making. Through a series of interviews, this thesis examines the relationship Kansas farmers have with the land they live on and dedicate their lives to. Specifically, I investigate how personal and community values influence farmers’ agro-environmental choices regarding soil health.

April 18th

Deirdre Flanagan

“Irish Republicanism, Then and Now: The Legacy of the Irish War of Independence”

The question of Irish reunification is more pressing, and more divisive, now than it has been in decades. However, what factors inform contemporary attitudes towards this question? More specifically, to what extent does the legacy of the 1919-21 Irish War of Independence contribute to such political opinions? This project uses archival and interview-based studies to focus on the historical experiences and current attitudes of three counties in the Republic of Ireland — Cork, Kerry, and Waterford — in order to explore how local experiences in the War of Independence shape Irish republicanism today.

Tony Hao
“’Til the Fortress Collapses: Translating Omnipotent Youth Society’s rock music lyrics”

China’s alternative rock band Omnipotent Youth Society (OYS, Wanneng Qingnian Lyudian, 万能青年旅店) is the nation’s most acclaimed and influential non-pop music group in the 21st century, despite having released only two albums in two decades. My senior project presents a literary translation of the Dylan Thomas-inspired music lyrics of the group’s small yet complete oeuvre. Special attention is given to the relationship between music and language, the Classical Chinese form of selected lyrics, and the group’s ambition of documenting contemporary China’s post-industrial historicity, environmentalism, and despair.

Belle Thomas
“Comparing the Environmental Justice Index and Climate and Economic Justice Data Tool in the Context of Climate Change Vulnerability”

Over the course of 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Biden-Harris Administration created data tools designed to measure the cumulative impacts of environmental and climate burden on communities across the country through the lens of economic and health justice. In my senior project I quantitatively explore how the CDC’s Environmental Justice Index and the Biden-Harris Administration’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool identify communities currently experiencing environmental burden as well as communities that will be disadvantaged by the climate crisis. Throughout this semester, I work to answer the questions: how does the EJI perform when considering issues related to climate justice? How well does the EJI represent communities’ vulnerability to climate change?

April 25th

Sevi Burget-Foster

“Implicit and Explicit Evaluations of Fictional Characters”
People tend to misattribute negative characteristics of characters in films to the actor who played them. My experiment attempted to answer why this misattribution happens in the context of believability and implicit cognition. We ran a study (N = 192) comparing implicit and explicit attitudes toward a character in a video who participants were told was either a documentary subject or an actor in a film. We  found evidence for character/actor misattribution explicitly but not implicitly. We also did not find a significant difference between the amount of negativity toward fictional characters and documentary subjects in the videos, implicitly or explicitly. These findings have implications for how we interact with media in our daily lives. 

Ziad Hassan
“Surface Level: Resend Advances in Membrane Protein Study”
Integral membrane proteins play essential roles in signal transduction, solute transport, and many other cellular processes. The methods to isolate these proteins from the membrane for the purpose of purification and analysis currently center around displacing the proteins into detergent micelles. The study of integral membrane proteins is essential in various therapeutic avenues, particularly drug design. However, current methods of isolating integral membrane proteins remove them from their native environment and thus make it difficult to determine their specific interactions with various ligands. This literature review delves into recent advances in integral membrane protein analysis at the purification, analysis, and optimization levels. Copolymer nanodiscs offer a novel method of solubilizing proteins in their native environment to allow for proper protein-protein and protein-lipid interactions. Liposome reconstitution then offers the opportunity for optimization, where lipid and protein environments can be tweaked to alter protein activity to desired results. Native mass spectrometry is a promising analytical tool that can fully utilize the native nanodiscs or liposomes as vessels for identifying surrounding proteins and other structures without breaking apart the disc. These methods open the door for more specific integral membrane protein analysis and have tremendous downstream applications, such as drug discovery for molecules that are currently deemed as “undruggable” by targeting the surrounding environment rather than the protein itself.

Laurel Humphreys
“Microbial Interactions with Bryophytes Across Height Gradients in the Tree Canopy”

The microbial communities living on and inside plant tissues allow natural plant communities to function. There is a vast continuum of possible relationships between fungi and their plant hosts, ranging from mutualism to parasitism. Recent advances in metagenomic techniques have enabled investigations into microbial community composition, spatial arrangement, and functional role. However, the fungi living among nonvascular plants, especially those that are epiphytic, have been largely overlooked. This project focuses on characterizing the fungal communities across different heights and bryophytic substrates in temperate rainforest tree canopies. To do this, I sampled bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) across different species, living statuses, and heights, from the forest floor to 18 meters above the ground. I then characterized the fungal constituents in each sample using metabarcoding. So far, my results indicate that the fungal communities living among terrestrial bryophytes have higher diversity and species richness than those living among epiphytic bryophytes, and different levels of the tree canopy may show differences in diversity. Living bryophyte tissues also show higher species richness and diversity than dead tissues, suggesting that the wide array of microhabitats provided by living bryophytes could drive diversity in microbial communities. Future work related to this project will focus on differences in community composition. Overall, these results are a promising indicator that nonvascular epiphytes provide a useful system for studying plant-microbial interactions and community turnover, as they represent a wide variety of ecological niches and microhabitats at small spatial scales, and they can be studied across a vertical gradient.