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To President Dudley and the Board:

We should remove “Lee” from our name.

I am a late convert to this cause. I held on to a singular view of our namesakes: that despite their flaws, Washington and Lee offered lessons on leadership in both victory and defeat.

Washington extended “truth, philanthropy, and mutual conciliation” to Liberty Hall. Lee, having caused immeasurable suffering through his role in the Confederacy, sought “to accomplish something for the benefit of mankind” at Washington College. From Washington’s gift, a call to action. From Lee’s presidency, a desire for redemption.

This is a generous and narrow reflection on two individuals whose ties to slavery must not be ignored. But it still offers guidance for the present moment. Although their lives and their contributions to our University followed starkly different paths, both Washington and Lee were guided by purpose. I think they both would acknowledge that in the pursuit of purpose, the right choice is rarely the easy one.

Our University is also guided by purpose: to attract and prepare promising students for engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society. Unfortunately, our name prevents us from fulfilling this mission. We have half of the Black student population of our peer institutions. WSJ’s rankings place us near the bottom of universities on diversity. Beneath these numbers are countless stories of racism and pain. We do not attract and prepare students for a global and diverse society.

Changing our name alone will not fix these challenges. But it will serve as a call to action and as a request for redemption. It is the hard choice, but it is one that will allow our University to fulfill its purpose. We are a preeminent institution today because of bold action and change. As President Emeritus Ruscio eloquently wrote, “a river, like a university, moves along in its own varied rhythms, changing through different stages, linked forever to where it began, even as it heads toward a different destination.”

We will not lose these lessons from our forebears. We will not lose our columns or our Chapel. But if we do not change – if we are not mindful of the future – we will lose our purpose.

Take action. Seek redemption. Change the name.

Thank you,

Mathew O’Sullivan
Class of 2012

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