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 2020?

January 21st: Jacob Bendicksen and Yesenia Chavez
January 28th: Sophia Krohn and Charlotte Van Voorhis
February 4th: Seth Anderson and Marwan Safar Jalani
February 11th: Jaster Francis and Kas Tebbetts
February 18th: Isaiah Affron and Serena Ly
February 25th: Maya Levin and Christina Pao
March 3rd: Jordan Cozby and Benjamin Waldman
March 24th: Jack Schleifer and Odette Wang
March 31st: Bryce Bjork, Sohum Pal, and James Wedgwood
April 7th: Rebekah Kim and Madison Mahoney
April 14th: Carmen Clarkin, Drew Gupta, and Titania Nguyen

what will the presentations be about?

Isaiah Affron
“The ‘Right to Revolution’: Natural Rights and Resistance in Early America”
In the decades leading up to the Declaration of Independence, 18th-century American intellectuals argued that if the colonists were unhappy with their government, they had a natural right to overthrow it and install another government in its place. Isaiah’s presentation will introduce some of its nuances and intellectual origins, arguing that it is a distinctly American Enlightenment philosophy. Finally, Isaiah will suggest that the “right to revolution” in Colonial America impacted American philosophy all the way to the present.

Seth Anderson
“Phosphoinositide 3-Kinase (PI3K) Regulates miR-1 Levels in Human Lung Cells”

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs that regulate eukaryotic gene expression by base pairing sequence-specifically with messenger RNAs. MiRNAs and many other non-coding RNAs were only discovered in the past two decades and the first miRNA-based disease therapies are on the immediate horizon. One such miRNA, miR-1, appears to play a critical role in lung homeostasis and in lung cancer, and my research seeks to understand the role of miR-1 in the lung and investigates the use of miR-1 for the development of novel lung cancer treatments and screens.

Jacob Bendicksen
“Jobs Guarantees from New Deal to Green New Deal”

In 2020’s political climate, a jobs guarantee like the one presented in the Green New Deal sounds radical, but ample precedent exists in American history for government-guaranteed employmnet. Jacob will trace this history, particularly the efforts during the 1930s and 1970s to pass jobs guarantees, then compare potential implementations for the guarantee proposed by the Green New Deal.

Bryce Bjork
Digital Marketplaces

A presentation on the theory and practice behind building and scaling digital marketplaces, such as Lyft, TaskRabbit, and DoorDash. Discussion will build on Bryce’s personal experience building and scaling Hire a Student ( and Sweet ( as well as his thesis research into supplier prioritization in two-sided marketplaces.

Yesenia Chavez
“Envisioning Vieques, PR’s Resilient Population Food Secure and Independent”

The population of Vieques in Puerto Rico suffers unique food insecurity due to environmental challenges. These have been imposed and worsened due to militourism, climate change, severe weather lik Hurricane Maria and the recent earthquakes and more. Finding resilience through struggle, how will the people of Vieques adapt their lives for sustainable agriculture and food independence?

Jordan Cozby
“Out in the Classroom: The Transformational Capacity of Queer Teachers in the United States and South Africa”

This project traces the divergent historical trajectories of queer acceptance in the United States and South Africa through the lens of education. In spite of challenging differences in legal protections and social acceptance, queer educators in both countries have utilized innovative organizing strategies to transform their communities. The role of labor unions, nondiscrimination laws, federalism, and popular media in creating inclusive schools will be discussed.

Jaster Francis
“American Racial Capitalism and the Criminal Justice System”

Using the United States of America as a model, “American Racial Capitalism and the Criminal Justice System” analyzes the definite impacts that racial capitalism can have on developed societies. In America, the social structures developed during slavery proved consequential as both American capitalism and society continued to develop. Through analysis of the American Reconstruction era, and the development of the Black Codes during that time, the project demonstrates the ways in which the social structures created by racial capitalism influenced the development of the American criminal justice system.

Drew Gupta
“Principal Component Analysis of Synaptic Density Measured with [11C]UCB-J PET in Alzheimer’s Disease 

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the only leading cause of death in the United States with no adequate treatment, prevention, or cure. Measuring synaptic connections in the brain using PET imaging allows us to discover novel insights into AD progression and potentially improve diagnostic accuracy for the disease.

Marwan Safar Jalani
“Inter-Ethnic Initiatives in Two Bosnian Towns: The Case for Integrationist Post-Conflict Policy”

My senior thesis compares the operations of inter-ethnic initiatives in two Bosnian cities; Mostar and Brcko. After the 1992 war, the former was divided territorially between Muslims and Coats while the latter preserved its multi-ethnic features under an international administration. Marwan looks at the effects of territorial division or lack thereof on the operations of civil society.

Sophia Krohn
“The Migrant Child in the Era of Feminism and Trump”

James Kincaid argued in 1992 that discourses about children have almost nothing to do with children, and are instead a way for adults to negotiate power among adults. Starting here, this presentation will engage feminist theories of childhood to understand how centering the  child in the 2018 family separation crisis changed how the U.S. discussed migration. It will also argue that the salience of the figure of the child was claimed by feminist activists and mobilized against Trump.

Maya Levin
“Treating Diarrheal Disease: Identifying and Characterizing Novel Bacteriophage to Target Salmonella Enterica

Bacterial diarrheal diseases cause between 2 and 3 million deaths per year globally, and vaccination against any or all of the numerous causative agents is often prohibitively costly or physically inaccessible for those in need. Bacteriophage (phage) therapy provides a potential solution to this issue. Maya’s presentation will provide background on phage therapy and discuss her work to create an antibiotic solution which would target three of the most common, deadly, and waterborne bacterial pathogens which cause acute diarrhea.

Serena Ly
“Healing through Scars: Examining Post-Khmer Rouge Healing Practices in Cambodia and the US”

This presentation will suggest ways in which familial and social networks may facilitate post-Khmer Rouge healing. Healing practices will be further conceptualized within religious and community frameworks and considered with regard to how they may be facilitated through social media, social service organizations, and perhaps most effectively, the fostering of constructive relationships between survivors and their children.

Madison Mahoney
“Pharmaceutical Corporate Social Responsibility: Analyzing Accountability and Responsibility in South Africa during the AIDS Crisis”

Through interviews with reporters, scientists, and activists involved in the fight for access to affordable HIV/AIDS drugs in South Africa, Madison analyzes the expectations for pharmaceutical companies during the crisis, and compares those expectations with their responses. To further understand the responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies, Madison traces their history of corporate social responsibility, and explains accountability from corporate and social perspectives.

Titania Nguyen
“Haunting the Page: Comics and Refugee Memory”

Why are comics and graphic novels so powerful in telling the stories of refugees? Titania examines comics studies and refugee studies to find out why- and creates her own comic book.

Sohum Pal
“Haunted lucre: West Indian slave mortgaging and finance capital”

Sohum’s presentation first reassesses the development of Anglo-American property law in the context of the British West Indies. It then examines the 1832 Debt Recovery Act in uneasy relation with the 1834 British “abolition” of slavery. Finally, it gestures towards how slavery continues to haunt contemporary financial capitalism.

Christina Pao
“Weighing Gender and Group Identity in Refugee Integration: A Gender Analysis of Super Volunteerism in Germany”

Through interviews done with civil society actors in Germany, Christina studies the interactions between German volunteers and refugee clients. By comparatively evaluating the dynamics between different gender pairings, Christina theorizes ways that identity can alter outcomes of refugee integration in a host-country.

Kas Tebbetts
“When Your Neighborhood Becomes a ‘Choice Neighborhood’: How, Where, and Why Today’s Public Housing Redevelopment Goes Wrong”

Despite skyrocketing demand for affordable housing, the United States’ federal government’s support for public housing has been shrinking drastically since the 1970s, forcing housing authorities across the country to turn to private funding. This presentation does a deep-dive into three communities in Baltimore, where a federal program called the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is leveraging almost 1 billion dollars of private funding to redevelop not only the public housing itself, but much of East Baltimore’s black neighborhoods. This project looks closely at history and community to understand what changes in the cityscape mean to the people who live there.

Charlotte Van Voorhis
“What Canonical Novels Can Tell Us About Linguistic Prejudice and Race in US Courts”

Everyone makes judgements, whether or not consciously, about other people based on their language use. The unfortunate case in the US is that linguistic prejudice against speakers of African American English (AAE) can result in incarceration and even death. This thesis explores the thematic and linguistic comparisons of three seminal court cases: Tom Robinson’s indictment in To Kill a Mockingbird, Janie Woods’ acquittal in Their Eyes Were Watching God and Trayvon Martin’s murder trial State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman (2013).

Benjamin Waldman
“Liberty and State-Building: The Freedmen’s Bureau in American Political Development, 1863-1877”

Following the Civil War, the United States instituted a remarkable effort to smooth the path of formerly enslaved people toward freedom. The Freedmen’s Bureau was tasked with supervising labor contracts, overseeing judicial disputes, and even redistributing land across the South, but it faced significant obstacles in the exercise of that authority and sputtered to a halt by the early-1870s. Countering a dominant narrative that emphasizes Reconstruction’s failure, Benjamin’s thesis places the Bureau at the forefront of American political history, exploring how its administrators and freedpeople contributed to the construction of a new American state.

Odette Wang
“Convenient Minorities: Asian American Positionality in New York City’s School Diversity Efforts”

This project utilizes the formations of race, ethnicity, and the Asian American panethnic label as a lens through which to examine Asian American positionality in current contestations between stakeholders over New York City public school diversity and integration. Through interviews this project attempts to answer: how do Asian American community leaders form stances on the divisive school diversity efforts, adn how do they navigate them within the larger panethnic community?

James Wedgwood
“Writing Tips from Wallace Stevens”

Wallace Steven’s Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction is a long poem that covers many topics, but its central focus is the question “what constitutes good poetry?” Much of James’ thesis is devoted to situating Stevens’s aesthetic philosophy in the context of the European tradition, but this presentation will stick to the poem itself, exploring how he answers that question and its implications. This will necessarily include some digressions into the metaphysics of Notes, and James hopes to talk a bit about practical implications as well.