Camille “Mimi” Borders
Program Year: G3
Washington University in St. Louis (B.A. in History, minor in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow)
Oxford University (MPhil in U.S. History with Distinction, Rhodes Scholar)
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
- GSP Mentee (former)
- GWCC (Graduate Women of Color Caucus) Director of Academic Affairs
Tell us about your background.
I am a midwestern girl born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. My people are from Kentucky and Oklahoma originally. I come from a family with a deep legacy as educators. My great grandmother studied at Wilberforce Teachers College and my grandmother, Mary Alyce Baughman, was an educator and administrator in Cincinnati Public Schools. I am the product of a loving and affirming family that told me from a young age that I could do anything. Every night growing up when my dad would tuck me in he would say, "you are smart, you are beautiful and you can do anything." This affirmation continues to motivate, inspire and challenge me to achieve my dreams and represent my ancestors in all I do.
In my freshmen year at Washington University in St. Louis Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, 15 minutes from my campus. As I packed for college, the news of Ferguson flooded the radio and television. During the fall of my freshman year, I became an active participant in protests following the Brown shooting. I was a member of Washington University Students in Solidarity, a student group created to use the privilege of our student status to promote racial justice and solidarity with Ferguson protestors. We facilitated campus race-relations dialogues with faculty and speak with the administration on how to make our college a more welcoming environment for students of color. A defining moment of my activism was the night of the non-indictment when the police officer in the Brown shooting was not charged with the use of excessive force. That night, I and many others were tear-gassed while protesting in front of the Ferguson Police Department. Throughout this time, I found my home within my history classes, a space where I could question, explore freely and understand the current unrest through the lens of the past. And that deep passion for the past has continued to sustain me.
I was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship in 2017, which was a very exciting year because I was a part of a historical class. We had 10 Black American Rhodes Scholars out of the 32 from the U.S. Here is an article https://www.essence.com/news/10-black-rhodes-scholars-2017/ among several that were published that year. There has yet to be a year that comes close to 2017 in terms of representation. My Rhodes experience transformed my life and introduced me to a global community of scholars and dear friends. Importantly, it took me outside of my U.S.-centric context and pushed me to deeply engage with questions of imperialism, empire, and power. During my time at Oxford, I was the Co-coordinator of Race and Resistance, a program of The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) where I organized weekly speakers and book discussions.
What are your research interests? What excites you about it?
My great-great-great grandmother was an enslaved person named Caroline, born in northern Kentucky. Her master was my great-great-great grandfather. I do not know her last name or the plantation. Her name has been passed down through oral tradition, but details have been lost along the way. Because of Caroline, I have dedicated my career to studying enslaved women's lives, particularly with an investment in their intimate lives. As a Black feminist historian and poet, I am invested in unearthing the lived experiences of enslaved women during the 19th century through creative modes of excavation. I am mainly focused on exploring moments of desire, critical entitlement, and pleasure during enslavement in the South.
My current research utilizes the Southern Claims Commission files to illuminate Black women’s interaction with the state through monetary repayments during the moment of Reconstruction. The Southern Claims Commission was created in March of 1871 to repay Union sympathizers living in the South for property taken by the Union Army during the Civil War. The notion of enslaved people owning property is complicated by the very fact that enslaved bodies were seen as property themselves. What does material ownership mean for a body that is considered property itself? The approved claims of Black women in Mississippi illustrate that during the Civil War and Reconstruction, Black women articulated a political sensibility based in collective emancipation and demanded a reciprocal relationship with the federal government while producing a new relationship to property.
How has ADI programming impacted you?
I have felt like in ADI settings I don't have to camouflage parts of myself or make myself small. In other parts of the university, especially my department, I feel like I have to perform a veneer of intellectualism, but with other POC I can be my goofy, loud self without a fear that I will be judged or people will make assumptions about my intellectual capacity.
What's been most helpful to you in acclimating to Princeton?
ADI events have been important in connecting with other grad students of color - the skate party especially!
What should the ADI community know about you?
I love community building and creating spaces for cross-disciplinary knowledge production. Oh, and I love to dance!
What activities do you engage in beyond research?
I do triathlons, I just did my third race this summer! I am on the executive board of the Graduate Women of Color Caucus. I roller-skate, you might see me falling on the Lakeside basketball court!!
What is, or would be, your super power?
What would you be doing if you weren’t in grad school?
What’s your perfect day?
Watching the sunrise on a beach and spending the day at museums.
What book, show, podcast, game, song, play, or movie best reflects your grad school experience?
BREAK MY SOUL
My first priority is caring for my body, mind and soul and I refuse to allow the demands of grad school to interfere with my inner peace and self-care.