Dear President Dudley,
In the past few years, I have woken up to how I was misguided in accepting W&L’s deification of a Robert E. Lee, a man who betrayed his country and fought to keep millions of Black people enslaved. Because of Lee and other relics of the Confederacy housed on campus, W&L is characterized by the cruelty of slavery, elitism and racism.
Lee was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of Black human beings as property. White supremacy was one of Lee’s most fundamental convictions. Lee’s decision to fight for the South was a choice to fight for the continued existence of human bondage in America.
Lee is undeserving of recognition in the university’s name. He broke up families of slaves, selling them off against the wishes of their original owners. And he is unworthy of respect as a college president, because he looked the other way when his students were accused of harassing female teachers in a Freedmen’s Bureau school and violating young Black women in Lexington.
Until the university frees itself of Lee, W&L will never achieve its goals of diversity and inclusion, no matter how much money it dedicates to the effort. Only by removing Lee’s name can the university overcome its inability to recruit and retain BIPOC students and faculty. Unless there is a change in the name, the student body will remain largely a place for privileged white wealthy southerners, as W&L is known.
The university’s current enrollment model is not viable—and it’s an embarrassment for a school of its stature in the 21st century. In 2019, 79 percent of W&L’s 1,860 undergraduates were white, and only 3.3 percent were Black. It is going to become increasingly more difficult to persuade a generation of high school students who care about diversity to attend a university named after a Confederate general.
Please lead the charge in ending the worship of Lee, a man who acted dishonorably throughout his lifetime. It is time for W&L to make amends for its role in pushing a false narrative. It is time for the board of trustees to drop Lee from the university’s name.
Sarah (Drain) Ryan-Knox, ’94U