Washington and Lee University to Keep Robert E. Lee Namesake, Promises to Make ‘Symbolic Changes’ to Campus

, Washington and Lee University to Keep Robert E. Lee Namesake, Promises to Make ‘Symbolic Changes’ to Campus, Nzuchi Times Breitbart

Washington and Lee University’s (W&L) Board of Trustees voted in a 22-6 decision to keep the school’s Robert E. Lee namesake, but also promised to “expand diversity and inclusion initiatives and make changes to campus buildings, practices, and governance.”

According to a Friday letter from the University’s Board of Trustees announcing their decision, “Last summer, in the midst of the nationwide protests in search for racial justice, the Board of Trustees received requests” calling for changes of the school’s name and diploma design, among other things. Despite the calls, the University “found no consensus about whether changing the name of our university is consistent with our shared values.”

W&L, the country’s ninth oldest institution of higher education, has maintained its current name for over 150 years, after then-former Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s “transformative presidency of Washington College from 1865 to 1870.”

Upon accepting the position as President of Washington College, four months after his surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Lee described his reasoning:

Life is indeed gliding away and I have nothing good to show for mine that is past. I pray I may be spared to accomplish something for the benefit of mankind and the honour[sic] of God.

So greatly have [educational] interests been disturbed [in] the South, and so much does its future condition depend upon the rising generation, that I consider the proper education of its youth one of the most important objects now to be attained…

The school maintains, however, that “Both George Washington and Robert E. Lee are historical figures of considerable complexity. They are recognized for their pivotal roles in the history of our country and in the history of our institution … The University does not regard them as beyond critique.”

To that end, in a Friday letter, University President Will Dudley said, “The name ‘Washington and Lee’ does not define us. We define it.” He continued to say “We join the Board in repudiating racism, racial injustice, and Confederate nostalgia.” Similarly, the Board of Trustees maintained that the inclusion of Lee’s namesake in 1870 was not in recognition of his leadership of the Confederacy, but rather “in recognition of his leadership in saving and transforming the school after the devastation of the Civil War.”

The Board of Trustees said it has also “reviewed campus symbols, names and practices, and we are making changes to remove doubt about our separation from the Confederacy and the Lost Cause.”

Some of the changes include removing images from the University’s diploma and a discontinuation of celebrating Founders Day, which is traditionally celebrated on Lee’s birthday. The University also plans to rename Lee Chapel to University Chapel “in keeping with its original 19th Century name of ‘College Chapel,’” and “physically separate [the Chapel’s] auditorium from the Lee family crypt and Lee memorial sculpture.”

Despite the changes, the University promises 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.”

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