Washington and Lee University Decides to Stop Holding Classes on MLK Day

W&LWashington and Lee University, the highly rated liberal arts college in Lexington, Virginia, has announced that it will no longer hold classes on the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., beginning in January 2016. The faculty of the college approved the change in November but school officials said it was too late to change the college’s academic calendar for the current school year.

brock_roslynUniversity President Kenneth P. Ruscio opposed the change saying he believed it would serve to produce a three-day weekend for students which would take away from the “impressive array” of projects, presentations, and performances on campus that honor Dr. King. For example, this year Roslyn McCallister Brock, chairman of the national board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, will give the keynote address of a multi-day event honoring Dr. King.

The issue of the holiday honoring Dr. King is of particular significance to Washington and Lee University. General Robert E. Lee’s tomb is located in a chapel on campus. Confederate flags are displayed in a museum on the lower level of the chapel. This past summer, President Ruscio acknowledged that the university had owned 70 to 80 slaves and benefited from their labor and in some cases financially from their sale.

The university’s law school made the decision not to hold classes on the holiday several years ago.

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  1. Washington &Lee should be embarrassed for waiting this long to finally honor a federal holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. This clearly shows how the spirit of both Washington & Lee is still alive and well within the university administrator’ and trustees. It would be really interesting to find out the actual vote that led to this change. In a matter of political correctness and feasibility for Washington &Lee, they decide to invite a high ranking official from the NAACP in an effort to reverse the image of Washington& Lee. Let’s be honest. The NAACP, the NAN, or the NUL do not speak for the majority of Black America. I can only imagine the incidence rate of racial microaggressions against Black students, staff, and faculty at Washington & Lee in which Black people merely suffer in silence.

  2. Washington & Lee, as lofty as its academics are proclaimed to be, loses hundreds of top applicants from all over the world because of its regressive culture. I am acquainted with a few Blacks who considered W & L. Then, upon asking around and researching the school, they quickly decided against applying for just that reason.

    Imagine a brilliant Black high school senior in Johannesburg perusing a list of distinguished small American universities, and she stumbles upon Washington & Lee. Then she notices that MLK is not honored properly by closing down the school, as does 99% of institutions in the country. When she notices, too, that Black enrollment is barely over 2%, as is the Latino enrollment, she’s gonna keep right on flipping through the list – leaving Washington & Lee without a chance to vie for our student so that she could grace the campus and enhance their reputation. Maybe they just don’t care!

  3. The fact is that Washington and Lee’s annual week-long celebration of the life and legacy of MLK has been a major event on campus for many years now. The university has been “honoring” Dr. King with significant programming in the belief that a day off from classes is not the only way to recognize his legacy. To suggest that the invitation to Ms. Brock was an effort to “reverse the image” is simply absurd. Past speakers for the MLK Day events have included Donna Brazile, Roland Martin, Terrence Roberts, Andrew Young, and Julian Bond — and those are just the last few examples. The keynote is one of a series of events that students, administrators and faculty plan together. With classes set to be cancelled beginning in 2016, the goal will be to fill that day with commemorative events as well. This year’s programming is listed here: http://myw.lu/mlkweek15.

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