To President Dudley:
I want to thank you for your leadership during a particularly complex moment in our history as an institution. I appreciate your thoughtful guidance of those involved in examining W&L’s own racism and in making many recommendations for change that I thought were positive steps forward.
I am a 2006 graduate writing to strongly support removing “Lee” from the name of our school. Frankly, this is an overdue step in reckoning with our problematic and painful history. W&L actively perpetuates the veneration of a man whose primary legacy was the military defense of slavery and the de-humanizing slave economy because he was a so-called “gentleman” and an effective college president. My concern is how Lee’s central place in our history shapes our present and future community. It unequivocally signals our ongoing complicity in white supremacy and our unwillingness to engage in honest reflection – not only about Lee’s actions and commitments, but our own. We can say we want to be an inclusive, diverse community, but his unquestioned prominence tells a different story about us. We do not need the myth of Lee in order to hold fast to values like honor and mutual respect (what his “Speaking Tradition” fosters at its best). In fact, it is only in taking this first step that we can more fully be a community marked by those cornerstones.
My only concern in writing this letter is that the debate over the name of the university becomes a distraction for the real work of anti-racism on campus. That work involves building in “institutionalized support” for BIPOC students, faculty, and staff, as outlined in Leah Gose ‘15’s recent post on Medium. I have been heartened to read your June 23rd communication about such changes on campus, and am grateful for the hard, thoughtful work going into them. This is W&L at its best, and I hope it will continue to shape our shared future. I also hope that all such efforts will be guided by those for whom they are designed to lift up. Listening to the experiences of BIPOC students, faculty, and staff will necessarily determine the best course of action in making W&L a healthier, more equitable place for community members of color. While not primary, a name change is necessary in supporting that course of action. As long as we leave it unchanged, I believe it will hinder efforts to mold the university into the community we want it to be. I will pay attention to ways alumni can support the work of better supporting BIPOC members of the W&L community, and have made my contribution this year to the Annual Fund for Diversity and Inclusion.
I write this with great hope that W&L can and will live into its commitment to honor, and with gratitude for the work that is already being done.
With great hope for the future,
Rev. Anna Rainey Dickson (‘06)