W&L launches DeLaney Center


Hannah Denham

Professor Ted DeLaney, the center’s namesake, outside his office in Newcomb Hall. The longtime professor passed away in late 2020.

Emma Malinak, Arts & Life Editor

The Theodore DeLaney Center hosted its opening reception on Sept. 29, exhibiting Washington & Lee’s continued commitment to promote diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.

The center honors the legacy of Ted DeLaney, a former professor who transformed the university’s teachings on race and identity.

“This is a really critical moment in our evolution,” President Dudley said at the reception. “We are an institution that refuses to be complacent and is always asking how we can become a better version of the school that we are.”

The DeLaney Center is an interdisciplinary academic hub designed to support the teaching and researching of race relations, culture and politics in the U.S. south. Dudley appointed Dr. Michael Hill, professor and chair of Africana Studies at W&L, as the inaugural director of the center.

“W&L exists in networks that are enmeshed and inextricably bound to the realities tied to race and southerness,” said Hill. “What better institution to take on this complicated yet rewarding job?”

Hill outlined four initiatives that will guide the DeLaney Center this year, including:

• A lecture series will bring three speakers to campus to help students think about race and southerness in history and in the 21st century.

• A film series, titled “Screen to Square,” will explore how Hollywood has depicted desegregation.

• A trip series, titled “DeLaney Center Saturdays,” will give students, faculty and staff the opportunity to visit sites in Virginia associated with the Civil Rights Movement.

• A continuation of “Freedom Ride” pre-orientation trips. The “Freedom Ride” trip was first offered in summer 2019 and has been offered to incoming first-year students ever since.

Hill said he believes the trip provides a crucial foundation for other DeLaney Center programming.

“Seeds are being sown for a magnificent harvest in the lives of these students,” he said.

This year, students traveled to civil rights sites in Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina. Throughout the journey, Hill encouraged them to contemplate both the historical and modern challenges to community building.

Arun Ghosh, ’26, said the trip was an eye-opening start to his college experience.

“This school doesn’t belong to George Washington or Robert E. Lee anymore,” Ghosh said. “Now it’s our turn to define our experience and what this school stands for.”

Apart from the four main initiatives, the DeLaney Center will also develop a more comprehensive representation of the university’s history and provide research help for students and professors. There will also be support available for professors who are developing new courses grounded in the issues and culture that shape the south.

Dudley said all of the center’s programming will serve the university’s mission by helping students to think freely, critically and humanely. He also said the center represents an investment in interdisciplinary curriculum and actualizes “our commitment to serious, rigorous investigation of contemporary regional issues and regional history.”

Hill said he hopes the center will inspire students to uphold honor, integrity and civility, just like its namesake did.

“Legacy kindles inspiration, and we are deeply blessed to have abundant inspiration in the example that Ted DeLaney provides,” Hill said.

DeLaney was born in 1943 in a segregated Lexington. After working as a janitor and laboratory technician at W&L for 16 years, he began taking classes on campus. DeLaney graduated with a B.A. in histo-ry in 1985, earned his Ph.D. in history from William & Mary in 1995 and returned to W&L as a full-time faculty member in 1995.

He passed away in December 2020, but his legacy lives on in the Africana Studies program that he founded and the new DeLaney Center.

Hill said he is excited and honored to take on the challenge of advancing DeLaney’s legacy and leading the center this year.

“My grandfather used to say ‘you never stop punching the clock on freedom.’ You have to do it everyday. Everyday, you write a new body of work in relation to the novel that is liberty,” said Hill. “We’ll be here at the DeLaney Center punching the clock, and we hope that you will join us in that practice.”