After the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, appointed a committee of faculty, staff, alumni and students to examine the university’s history and how it is presented on campus. The group suggested that Lee Chapel should be converted into a museum and key campus events should no longer be held there. Robert E. Lee and his family are buried underneath the chapel.
The committee found that the imagery in the chapel was created in the late 19th century, a time when many in the South were trying to glorify Confederate leaders. The committee stated that prominently displayed Confederate history, such as that displayed at the Lee Chapel, has made it difficult for the university to recruit Black students. The group’s formal report said “by continuing to hold rituals and events in Lee Chapel, the university, wittingly or not, sustains the Shrine of the South and the memory of Lee as a commander of the Confederate Army.” Currently, Washington & Lee holds campus events such as orientation and the signing of the honor code in the chapel.
However, university President William C. Dudley recently announced that he has rejected the changes suggested by the committee. In rejecting the proposal, President Dudley released the following message to the campus community:
“We can and will continue to use Lee Chapel, as our community has done for a century and a half, in the service of the life of the university. We can and will continue to welcome visitors to Lee’s tomb and memorial statue, while ensuring that university events do not feel as though they take place in a Confederate shrine. And we can and will continue to teach the history of W&L, including the history of Lee’s presidency and the chapel he built, without converting the building to a museum that would be unavailable for any other purpose. We will take care to preserve the historical value of the chapel and its later addition, while at the same time making certain that the space becomes one in which all members of our community can enjoy participating in important university events.”