Dear President Dudley,
I am writing to you as an alumna of the University and public school teacher located in Charleston, West Virginia. I want to thank you for your ongoing communication in recent weeks regarding the commitment to changes in the systems and practices that perpetuate racial inequality and injustice. I appreciate your efforts, but as I mentioned in the comment left on the survey included in the letter dated June 23, 2020, without removing the Lee name from the University, these efforts will be futile. To ignore and avoid a serious conversation about the implications of maintaining the Lee name is to ignore the confederate flag covered elephant in the room.
As stated in the University’s Report of the Commission on Institutional History and Community dated May 2, 2018, during Lee’s 1866 testimony before Congress, he testified that: “blacks were ‘not as capable of acquiring knowledge’ as whites, although ‘some [are] more apt than others’; that he was against black enfranchisement at the present time because ‘they cannot vote intelligently’; … that Virginia would be a better place if blacks were removed from the state” (23). As an educator, I am baffled as to how the University expects to accomplish any of its stated goals regarding diversity, progress, and inclusion while continuing to operate under the name of the man who made these statements.
The middle school where I have taught for twelve years feeds into George Washington High School, my own alma mater, consistently the best high school in the state of West Virginia. Charleston is less than three hours from Lexington and has a large alumni population, and yet my own students—who I promise are going to change the world—are reluctant to apply to and attend the University because the Lee name limits the collegiate experience they can have. Three of my sharpest, most talented 8thgraders from the 2019-20 school year are Black, and I promise that without a dramatic shift in the University’s messaging, you will not see their applications to join the class of 2028.
Removing the Lee name from the University and its buildings would in no way detract from the experience I had as a student and would only seek to enhance the breadth of the experience offered to future students. I am continually grateful for my experience at W&L, but find myself reluctant to speak the full name “Washington & Lee” when asked where I attended college – and as a middle school teacher, this is a question I get rather often. My students know that I am a sharp thinker, and in my classroom, they grow into thoughtful, analytical scholars, but the University will continue to miss out on students like T—-, C—–, and M—– because they will find better, more welcoming opportunities elsewhere. When the best and the brightest choose to attend other schools, W&L can no longer claim to be a top institution of higher learning. Actions may speak louder than words, but the action of removing a single word would speak volumes about the future of the University. The time has come. Change the name.
Undergraduate class of 2005