WashU welcomes 31st cohort of Mellon Mays fellows

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program supports original undergraduate research projects in the humanities and social sciences.

Five sophomores have been selected for the next cohort of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program, which is celebrating 30 years at WashU.

Over a two-year period, fellows work with a faculty mentor on a research project in the humanities and social sciences. Fellows who enter a PhD program in a Mellon-designated field are also eligible for loan forgiveness. The MMUF program seeks to attract engaged scholar-activists who can contribute impactful research and build meaningful relationships with scholars and faculty members.

“This year the selection process was extremely difficult because we had so many worthy and exciting projects,” said Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo, senior assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and MMUF administrative director. “We are excited about their projects and to see how the fellows develop over the next two years.”

The program has had a tangible impact on Arts & Sciences over the last three decades, including many alumni who now teach at WashU. These include Michelle Purdy, associate professor of education and a Mellon Mays fellow at WashU; Lauren Eldridge Stewart, assistant professor of ethnomusicology and fellow at Spelman College; Chris A. Eng, assistant professor of English and fellow at Hunter College; and Rebecca Amonor, a doctoral student in English and a fellow at Yale University.

Karma Frierson, assistant professor of African and African American Studies and a Mellon Mays fellow at Harvard, served on WashU’s MMUF selection committee this year. “As a Mellon alumna, it is especially rewarding to welcome, learn from, and engage with young scholars at the beginning of their journey in this career path,” she said. “Their enthusiasm and curiosity are an inspiration, and I am sure they will each be a positive force in academia.”

In October, WashU will host the Mellon Mays Midwest Regional Undergraduate Conference, which will include fellows from Carleton College, The University of Chicago, Grinnell College, Macalester College, Northwestern University, and Oberlin College.

Jonathan Fenderson, MMUF faculty director and associate professor of African and African American Studies, is eager for the opportunity to gather and celebrate more than 30 years of the program’s success. “I’m really looking forward to not only having the Midwest students come to visit us, but also having some of our alumni from the program come back and celebrate the milestones the program has made,” he said. “We now have a Mellon alum at every level, from tenured faculty to the newest fellows just joining us.”

The new Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows follow five juniors who joined the program last year: Annie Chang, Ad’Mirel Durden, Tori Harwell, Maya Phelps, and Lucas Veloria.

Meet the 31st cohort of MMUF fellows:

Leandrea Clay

Major: African and African American Studies and Anthropology

Mentor: Zachary Manditch-Prottas

Project title: “Where Dey At? A Roll Call of Queer Expression in NOLA’s Bounce Music”

Project description: This research seeks to answer the question: What about Bounce music allows for more recognition and acceptance of outwardly identifying queer artists compared to other mainstream forms of African American music? By combining the research methodologies of African and African American Studies and Anthropology, this project aims to develop a comprehensive understanding of gender performance, specifically through the lens of Bounce music. Analysis will include research in archives and peer-reviewed journals, audience reception of Bounce music, and primary media analysis. By studying how Bounce music disrupts performances of the gender binary within the African American community, the project seeks to provide solutions to achieving all-gender acceptance in other public spheres of African American identity.


Zach Gore

Major: History and Spanish

Mentor: Lori Watt

Project title: “Japan's History With its Natural Environment Through Film”

Project description: This project will explore how depictions of nature in Japanese film have evolved over time. Since current events are often the inspiration for films, it will also examine the major events in Japanese history corresponding with the release of certain films. While film will be the primary lens through which to examine history, the project will also look at the filmmakers themselves to analyze what their portrayals of the environment say about cultural shifts in Japan. At its core, this project is meant to portray the tension that exists between humanity and the natural world.


Jermicah Lott

Major: African and African American Studies

Mentor: Tim Parsons

Project title: “Subsistence to Destitution: The Proletarianization of Black Working Classes”

Project description: Proletarianization involves individuals who are displaced from their means of production and coerced to sell their labor for wages. People within the African Diaspora have repeatedly undergone this process without reparations. The project entails analyzing socioeconomic congruences between Black working classes in the African diaspora, including proletarianized Jim Crow rural workers in Mississippi and proletarianized Kenyans during the colonial period. Because of its importance for self-sufficiency, land will be the foremost metric of comparison. The project will undertake socio-historical analysis via archival documents, oral tradition and oral history.


Amanda Young

Major: History and Educational Studies

Minor: American Culture Studies

Mentor: Michelle Purdy

Project title: “Chinese Students, Jim Crow Schools: Navigating Education in a Black-and-White Society”

Project description: Most people associate the Jim Crow South with white supremacy and racism, rooted in legacies of enslavement, which culminated in the strict segregation of Black and white people. However, another group — the Chinese — fit in neither category. As a racial anomaly in the segregated South, the Chinese occupied an intermediate position, which is particularly discernible in education. The project will explore how Chinese families from approximately 1896 to 1954 complicated the bifurcated system of segregation by resisting, acquiescing, and/or internalizing the racial hierarchy to obtain access to schools. This work will highlight how the Chinese fought for educational opportunities and grappled with their racial identities while navigating white, Black, and Chinese institutions.


Han Zhang

Major: Global Studies

Mentor: Raven Maragh-Lloyd

Project title: “Live(s) Streaming: Twitch.tv and the Creation of Digital Safe Space”

Project description: With the advent of the Internet and the age of COVID-19, the way that people interact has changed dramatically over the past decade. People are increasingly drawn to Twitch.tv, an online streaming platform where entertainers (who often live-stream themselves playing games, cooking, singing, or even just chatting) interact with audiences of hundreds or even thousands of people. Twitch is most famous for its communities centered around gaming, and has garnered a reputation for internalized racism, homophobia, and misogyny, among other things. This project aims to explore the nature of LGBT or LGBT-supporting communities within the broader Twitch community and analyze how marginalized groups not only survive but thrive in hostile digital environments.