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Washington and Lee University refuses to cave, will keep its name despite demands

However campus leaders did agree to remove Washington’s and Lee’s images from diplomas

Washington and Lee University’s Board of Trustees has announced that the institution will keep its name despite years of protests from activists who demanded that, at a minimum, Confederate General Robert E. Lee be scrapped from the moniker.

But trustees did agree to other diversity, equity and inclusion concessions, such as agreeing to remove the images of Lee and President George Washington from diplomas.

In a statement released June 4, the trustees explained their rationale.

“The name we have had for 151 years, and upon which our reputation is built, provides strength and resources critical to advancing our mission and ensuring that we can do good work long into the future,” their statement read.

“Therefore, we will continue as Washington and Lee University, building on our success and focusing on the actions that have the greatest potential to help all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, included, and able to thrive.”

The decision comes after years of protest over the name, including vandalism of campus signs, walk outs, petitions and more.

To appease activists, trustees not only agreed to remove images of the university’s namesakes from its diplomas, they also announced that Lee Chapel will be renamed “University Chapel” and Founders Day, traditionally held on Lee’s birthday, will be discontinued.

The board announced it will also form a committee on diversity, equity and inclusion and “lead an examination of campus residential and social institutions to increase accessibility, inclusivity, and choice for all students.”

“At W&L we enthusiastically embrace our future of diversity, equity and inclusion. We do this not in spite of the complexity of our history and our namesakes but precisely because of that complexity,” trustees stated in their announcement.

“We will continue to conduct rigorous and nuanced explorations of our history, with the humility and honesty to acknowledge both our successes and those moments when the university failed to live up to its ideals.”

Not everyone is pleased with the overall decision.

The Generals Redoubt, a group of alumni who have fought to preserve the university’s heritage, said in a news release that despite the decision to keep the school’s name, the other concessions were a mistake:

The Lee Chapel is named after Robert E. Lee because he conceived of the idea of a school wide chapel, built it, and he and his family are buried there. In honoring Robert E. Lee’s memory through the naming of the chapel, we do not believe the university is, in any way, promoting the Confederacy, “The Lost Cause”, or racism.

Founders’ Day is an effort to honor not only our namesakes, but also all of our founders. Within the last three years the university itself has suggested that Founders’ Day should be expanded to focus, not just on George Washington and Robert E. Lee, but on all of our founders and prominent figures. The university has described this as an educational opportunity for students and for the entire Washington and Lee community. There may be an argument to move the date of Founders’ Day, but there is absolutely no need to remove it.

All of the proposed changes to campus symbols, buildings, and practices are, in our opinion, further manifestations of the “erase history” and “cancel culture” movements which have proliferated at Washington and Lee and in the broader culture in the last few years.

On the flip side, those who pressed for the name change are frustrated with the decision, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, noting that law Professor Chris Seaman “called for immediate efforts to improve the diversity of the board” and that law Professor Carliss Chatman posted on Twitter: “Imagine a board of trustees more afraid of being called woke than racist.”

MORE: Washington and Lee University may scrap its name next month after years of protest

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.