Vineeta Singh began a two-year term at the Omohundro Institute on July 1, 2018, as the OI-W&M Lemon Project Postdoctoral Fellow. The fellowship was created to study the history of institutions and economies of oppression with a preference for higher education and slavery in connection with the Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation at William & Mary. The fellowship is supported by the Ronald Hoffman Fund in Honor of the OI’s Director Emeritus.
by Vineeta Singh
I’m excited to be joining the OI intellectual community as the OI-William & Mary Lemon Project Postdoctoral Fellow. The title is a mouthful, so let me break it down for a second. The Lemon Project began in 2009 when the Board of Visitors, responding to calls from William & Mary faculty and students, backed an initiative to investigate the College’s history with U.S. slavery and its afterlives. Since then, faculty, students, and community contributors to the Lemon Project have created collaborative scholarship that documents the historical interactions and interdependence between the university and local Black communities, while also working to create a more welcoming campus climate for Black students, and strengthening bridges between the university and African-American communities on the Peninsula today and for the future. With backing from the Ronald Hoffman Fund, the OI has created a two-year postdoctoral fellowship to support the Project. As the OI-W&M Lemon Project Postdoctoral Fellow, I will be building with the Lemon Project, the OI, and the university’s various community engagement initiatives to execute some of the recommendations being put forward in the Lemon Project’s new 8-year retrospective report compiled by Project Director Jody L. Allen in consultation with the Lemon Project Steering Committee.
As a newcomer to William & Mary and to the Peninsula, I bring a new set of experiences and skills to this ongoing project. I’ve just finished my PhD in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, where my research focused on the emergent field of Critical University Studies, an interdisciplinary effort to study the political economy of U.S. higher education and to re-imagine a more just and equitable version of American higher ed. In my dissertation, I focused on how critical university studies might tell a different history if it recognizes the centrality of racial capitalism to the evolution of higher education in the United States. For my dissertation, I studied normal and vocational institutes set up for Black Southerners during Reconstruction, community colleges in cities like Chicago during the Great Migration years, land-grant university campuses in California during the wave of Third World student activism in the 1960s and 70s, and Teach For America-style teacher credentialing programs in post-industrial cities during the aftermath of the culture wars. In my time here I intend to further this research by connecting to the earlier historical time periods studied by the Lemon Project and other members of the Universities Studying Slavery consortium. Making connections between the theory, praxis, and practitioners of Critical University Studies I worked with on the west coast and the work of the Lemon Project will open new avenues of research and advocacy for all of us concerned with the university’s role in creating a more just world.
But what I am most excited about right now is to put my research into practice with the Lemon Project. In the next couple of months I will be getting up to speed with the Project’s past and ongoing work with students and community members. After doing so I’ll work on amplifying that work, making the Project more visible in campus spaces, and making the Project and the university more visible as positive influences in Black community spaces and institutions off campus by supporting existing programming such as the porch talk series, and building new programming in collaboration with existing community service and outreach initiatives on campus.
In my two years here I will also be teaching two classes on the history of race and racism in U.S. higher education. In addition to learning the College’s racial history, and the racial history of U.S. higher education more broadly, students will learn about contemporary efforts to amend past mistakes and participate in Lemon Project initiatives to improve campus climate. My syllabi will draw on ongoing debates in Critical University Studies and among the Universities Studying Slavery Consortium, encourage students to participate in these conversations with their own experiences, and guide them to be active participants in creating a university that does not reproduce the mistakes of the past but actively makes amends to ameliorate the harm it has done.
There’s a lot I want to do in the next two years, and frankly, I can’t wait to get started!