June 14, 2024

Washington and Lee won’t change confederate reference in name

The Washington and Lee University Board of Trustees voted 22-6 against removing Confederate general Robert E. Lee from the school’s name.

Following the decision by the Board of Trustees, the Virginia school will continue to operate under its current name, which is connected to a racist and oppressive history.

Amid uprisings across the nation on the heels of George Floyd’s murder, the Board of Trustees received requests from students, faculty and alumni calling for the renaming of the school and a change to its diploma designs, according to a school release.

While the majority of the Board was in support of the decision, many people, including alumna and lawyer Gail Deady, expressed disappointment in their decision. 

The Board of Trustees’ statement reads in part, “Over the past year, we have engaged in deliberations over these requests and other important issues relating to diversity and inclusion on campus. We have been guided by our responsibility to ensure the university’s future success in a complex and changing world.”

The school touched base with 15,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents to hear their perspectives through surveys, letters and listening sessions, according to their statement.

“Our community holds passionate and divergent opinions about our name,” the school said. “The association with our namesakes can be painful to those who continue to experience racism, especially to African Americans, and is seen by some as an impediment to our efforts to attract and support a diverse community. For others, our name is an appropriate recognition of the specific and significant contributions each man made directly to our institution.”

Community members criticized the school’s statement for acknowledging the pain felt by African Americans and still voting against changing the name. 

The school went on to share how the names were selected based on the contributions of George Washington and Robert E. Lee.

“Those names were chosen to acknowledge direct actions by each of them for the benefit of the school,” the statement read. “In 1796, George Washington made a gift to Liberty Hall Academy that ensured its survival, in recognition of which the trustees named the school Washington Academy. In 1870, immediately following his death in office as President of Washington College, the trustees added Lee’s name in recognition of his leadership in saving and transforming the school after the devastation of the Civil War.”

Law professor Chris Seaman shared a Twitter thread with nine problematic findings regarding the statement.

“Second, as others have noted, it creates a false equivalence between the profound harms that are caused by racism and white supremacy, and those who want to acknowledge the “contributions” of the University’s namesakes,” Seaman tweeted.

One of the final points in the thread touched on the school’s so-called commitments. 

“Eighth, many of the actual concrete commitments in the plan have little to do with diversity and inclusiveness, such as add’l spending on first-year courses, or are rehashes of things already promised, like need-blind admissions,” Seaman shared.

According to NBC News, this would not be the first time the school would have changed its name. They’ve switched their name multiple times since it was founded in 1749 as Augusta Academy, the outlet reports.

In addition to changing the school’s name, community members called on the school to stop selling Confederate paraphernalia at their museum shop.

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