Approximately 400 students at Washington and Lee University walked out of classes last Tuesday to demand the school change its name.
Specifically, students want Robert E. Lee’s name to be dropped from the school moniker. Lee was a Confederate general during the Civil War, leading the Army of Northern Virginia. After the war, he served as the school’s president from 1865 to 1870. (W&L was known as Washington College at the time, not to be confused with this institution.)
According to WMRA, students wore t-shirts and masks which read “Change the Name,” and carried placards stating same.
W&L junior Enuma Anekwe said that by keeping Lee’s name, the university was “alienating” black students and making them “unsafe.”
“But most of all,” Anekwe told those assembled, “you are holding onto a history that denigrated, enslaved, and committed an entire genocide of a lot of our ancestors.”
Anekwe said W&L faculty “are generally supportive” of changing the name of the school. One of them, Journalism Professor Toni Locy, penned an op-ed in The Nation last year in which she complained the school’s Lee Chapel “reeks of the cruelty of slavery, of elitism and racism.” She said “until it frees itself of Lee, the university will never achieve its stated goals of diversity and inclusion.”
Last year, almost two-thirds of W&L faculty indicated they wanted Lee’s name removed from the school. Black faculty at the law school said they wanted George Washington’s name gone, too.
Walkout organizer Otice Carder said alumni who oppose the name change are threatening to withhold donations. Alumnus Neely Young, class of 1966, heads a group called The Generals’ Redoubt which wants to keep “Washington and Lee”:
“Now, some of us have suspended our donations to the university until this name change issue is resolved … We attempt to live our lives in emulation of the characteristics of Robert E. Lee and George Washington. We look upon them with respect and honor. We don’t have hero worship for them, we simply recognize the tremendous influence that they’ve had on our university and on generations of students and alums.”
Young said that many alumni hold affection for Lee, in part, because his five years as college president saved the school from financial ruin and introduced a modern curriculum. And, he said, they’re in touch with a lot of conservative students on campus who feel the same, but may not be as vocal as liberal students and faculty.
In 2018, a commission recommended keeping “Washington and Lee” noting “changing the name would not change the institution’s history or perfect its culture and runs the risk of denying history rather than learning from it.”
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