Washington and Lee University Trustees Vote Not to Change the Name of the Educational Institution

For the past several years, Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, has wrestled with its history. The university is named after George Washington, a slave owner, and Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate Army during the Civil War, who served as president of the educational institution for five years after the war.

In 2014, the university removed Confederate flags from campus. In 2016, the university unveiled a historical marker on campus that recognizes the educational institution’s ties to slavery. In 1826, a local landowner bequeathed 84 slaves to what was then Washington College. The slaves ranged in age from three months to over 80 years old. Most of the slaves were sold in 1836 but the college still owned three slaves as late as 1857.

In 2018, the university removed the name of one of it founders, who was a slave owner, from a building on campus. it also made changes to Lee Chapel on campus. General Robert E. Lee is buried beneath the chapel.

Last summer, during nationwide protests for racial justice, the board of trustees received requests from students, faculty, and alumni calling for changes in the university, including renaming the institution itself and altering the design of its diploma. The faculty supported a name change by a vote of 188 to 51.

Now the board of trustees has voted 22 to 6 to retain the name Washington and Lee University. In a statement the board wrote:

“Our community holds passionate and divergent opinions about our name. 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.

“The university today is not a memorial to our namesakes, but a place that provides an exceptional liberal arts and legal education and fosters relationships that bind generations of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to each other.

“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. 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 board did authorize the renaming of Lee Chapel to University Chapel. The trustees also stated that they would “approve interior changes to restore its unadorned design and physically separate the auditorium from the Lee family crypt and Lee memorial sculpture.” The trustees also pledged to raise $160 million so the university could practice need-blind admissions in order to increase the diversity of the student body. And, the board ruled that images of Washington and Lee will no longer appear on university diplomas.

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  1. Why would any serious Black academic (e.g., professor or student) be affiliated with Washington & Lee knowing the brutal and criminal history of Washington & Lee.

    • Michael,

      Perhaps one day you will appreciate the implications of the fact that blacks sit firmly in place at the very bottom of every First World, high-performing society on the planet. We are not widely admired or well regarded, and we are badly in need of friends and allies..

      We need to take every opportunity we have to improve our standing everywhere, not write down lists of our enemies or of institutions we will not engage.

      • Your RACIST, IGNORANT, and statistically inaccurate comment only reveals your Deep Insecurities because you’re not a Native born Black American. Also, your misguided comment sounds like an extrapolation from “How to Lie with Statistics to Lie” (Huff and Geiss, 1993). Adios payaso!

      • Your feebleminded response is indicative of having a 21st century neocolonial mind of the highest order. It’s time to take your meds.

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