Washington University in St. Louis senior Camille Borders named Rhodes Scholar

Borders to study history of the global slave trade

Camille "Mimi" Borders
Camille Borders (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

Camille (Mimi) Borders, a senior in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is among 32 students from across the United States chosen Saturday, Nov. 18, as a Rhodes Scholar.

One of the world’s most prestigious academic awards, Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Borders, 21, intends to earn a master of philosophy degree in social and economic history, studying the global slave trade and the factors that led to its eventual demise.

Borders is the 28th Rhodes Scholar from Washington University. Her family resides in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Academia and activism

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Borders arrived as an Ervin Scholar at Washington University in August 2014, shortly after the shooting death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Mo. She quickly became active in campus and community protests, and active in creating the group Washington University Students in Solidarity, to facilitate race-relations dialogues and institutional change on campus.

A defining moment occurred that fall, when Borders and many others “were tear-gassed while peacefully protesting in front of the Ferguson Police Department,” Borders remembered. “As I ran in a foggy haze, among the cacophony of sirens and screams, my breath jagged and eyes watering, I decided my life would be dedicated to promoting racial equality.”

Amidst these tumultuous events, Borders discovered a scholarly home in her history classes, which helped her to explore the roots of contemporary unrest. “Organically, my activism grew intertwined with my interest in academia and research,” she said. “My love for knowledge and intellectualism is inherently tangled with my desire for equality.”

The following year, Borders was selected as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and served as research assistant for the oral history project “Documenting Ferguson.” In 2016, she researched the Trans-Atlantic slave trade at the University of Bristol as part of the Fulbright Summer Institute, and, in 2017, she spent six months at the University of Ghana, studying history and creative writing.

She currently is working on her senior honors thesis, “The Possibility of Desire: Sexual Choice within U.S. Colored Troops Widows’ Pensions.” The thesis explores how, after the Civil War, newly freed black women navigated issues of citizenship and intimacy.

‘A force of nature’

“Mimi is an intellectual force of nature,” said her advisor, Iver Bernstein, professor of history and director of American Culture Studies in Arts & Sciences. “She combines interpretive originality with laser-like attention to both the particulars of everyday life and to the big questions of American political history. What does it mean to have a self, to be a citizen, to be free?”

Jeffrey Q. McCune Jr., associate professor of women, gender and sexuality studies, called Borders “a born scholar of the best kind.

“She is rigorous, ambitious, creative, intelligent — a focused, independent thinker of great humility and integrity,” McCune added. “Her work connects theory and history in a mature and masterful way.”

Borders’ friend Jasmine Brown, a fellow Ervin Scholar and fellow member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, also was selected as a Rhodes Scholar, making her the university’s 29th. A biology major in Arts & Sciences, Brown is a research assistant at Washington University School of Medicine, where she has uncovered the molecular pathways West Nile and Zika viruses travel to infect the brain. Read more about Brown here.

To learn more about the Rhodes Scholarship, visit rhodesscholar.org.

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