Washington and Lee’s DeLaney Center Builds Momentum During Fall Term Center announces new personnel, supports research opportunities and introduces programs for the campus community.
“We believe the DeLaney Center can foster community building and promote civic progress.”
~Michael Hill, director of the DeLaney Center
In 2021, Washington and Lee University named its newest interdisciplinary academic center in honor of Theodore “Ted” Carter DeLaney Jr. ’85, the late professor of history emeritus. The DeLaney Center’s mission is to explore Southern race relations, culture and politics through a variety of disciplinary approaches and theoretical perspectives. Taking full advantage of the university’s Virginia location and extensive archival holdings, the center provides unique opportunities for students, faculty, alumni, community partners and higher education colleagues to ponder how W&L’s long and complex history intersects with the racial issues that have defined and continue to shape both the U.S. South and the entire country.
Michael Hill, professor and chair of the Africana Studies Program at W&L, was named the DeLaney Center’s inaugural director in April 2022. Through searches conducted during the 2021-22 academic year, the center launched its staffing efforts bringing in two of its six new faculty members. The DeLaney Center’s faculty affiliates include Wendy Castenell, who will arrive on campus in fall 2023 as an assistant professor in the Art and Art History Department following the completion of a long-term fellowship at the Newberry Library in Chicago, and Nathan Dean, who joined W&L’s Law, Justice and Society Program in fall 2022 as an assistant professor. Chantal Smith, assistant professor of economics, is the current DeLaney Center Faculty Fellow. This position is chosen based on an open call to the whole university and the recipient serves for a single year receiving a course reduction and a research assistant.
“W&L, as many already recognize, is uniquely positioned to play a major role in promoting research, teaching and programming that illuminate Southern racial realities, and the DeLaney Center offers varied opportunities for the W&L community to ponder and confront those realities,” Dean said. “I am pleased to find myself a part of a community dedicated to ‘doing the work’ when it comes to these realities and all the more pleased to also find myself associated with a center positioned at the heart of those efforts.”
Rose Hein ’22 was recently announced as the DeLaney Center’s first postbaccalaureate fellow. Hein’s two-year appointment includes collaborating with other departments on campus and creating programming and research opportunities that encourage students to engage with the center.
“At W&L, students are an integral part of research work. While the DeLaney Center is pursuing several core initial projects, student interests and passions within the realm of southern race relations, culture and politics are of equal importance to the center’s work,” Hein said. “Even students with no prior background in research or this area of study are encouraged to get involved — as an academic center, learning is at the heart of all we do.”
As part of her role, Hein is available to assist faculty with ongoing research connected to the center, with the hope that future faculty research partnerships will grow as the center expands. One of her priorities for Fall Term 2022 is a project conducting an inventory of W&L courses related to Southern race relations, culture, politics and other curricular elements that intersect with the DeLaney Center’s focus. She has also been finding ways to connect undergraduate students to ongoing research the center is conducting, including unearthing the stories of the first black women to attend W&L after the university began co-education in 1985. Hein will also be supporting Chantal Smith on a project examining stand-alone economics departments at historically black colleges and universities.
“Those who are already working with the DeLaney Center can look to Rose as a resource, and we also want to help faculty members who are interested in cultivating areas where they see some cross-pollination possibilities,” Hill said. “Our thinking about how to connect student- and faculty-centered support and programming is still evolving, but we hope that these initiatives will generate courses and research tied to our broader institutional mission.”
Hill said he looks forward to adding reading groups, faculty symposia and other layers of programming that will generate engagement across campus. The pillars of the center’s first programs will be the From Screen to Square film series, which will host screenings and guided discussions of films that tell stories about desegregation; DeLaney Center Saturdays, which offer a selected group evenly comprised of students, faculty, staff and community members an excursion to a historic civil rights location on designated Saturdays throughout the academic year; and the Race and Southern-ness speaker series, which invites academic experts to W&L to discuss contemporary trends in the study of race and southern life.
The first installment of the From Screen to Square film series was held Nov. 7 from 6-9 p.m. in Stackhouse Theater, located inside Elrod Commons. The DeLaney Center presented a screening of “Remember the Titans” followed by a panel-led discussion on integration and ongoing racial issues in athletics. Subsequent films in the series will include “Hidden Figures,” “Loving” and “The Best of Enemies.” The first DeLaney Center Saturday took place on Nov. 5, and schedules for future DeLaney Center Saturdays and the Race and Southern-ness speaker series are still in development.
The DeLaney Center will also continue to offer the Freedom Ride orientation experience as part of the Leading Edge program for incoming first year W&L students. Inspired by a Spring Term course created by Ted DeLaney, this five-day orientation trip began in 2019 as a multi-state journey that encouraged students to view the black freedom struggle as a mirror for their transition from high school to college and their first encounters with community building. Freedom Ride examines the circumstances that led young people in 1961 to travel throughout the Jim Crow South and includes stops at a wide range of social institutions in Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina.
“We believe the DeLaney Center can foster community building and promote civic progress,” Hill said. “We see it as a forum that regularly hosts such rituals. We want those who participate to ponder what it means to produce a multiracial democracy, one that lives up to the loftiest possibilities of our nation’s founding.”
More information about DeLaney Center programming, staff and research opportunities can be found here.