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Letter

Two Letters!

First to President Dudley:

Dear President Dudley,

I am a 2012 graduate of W&L who remains active with the university as a mentor to Shepherd students and young alumni and a coordinator for the Elrod Fellowship program in DC. I am writing to urge W&L to change its name as one small but critical part of a robust and widespread movement to transform the university into the place it claims it wants to be: a thriving institution where ALL students are set up for success, regardless of race, income, gender, sexual orientation, or other identity. 

I have great nostalgia and reverence for traditions, legacy, and history. Yet, this nostalgia becomes dangerous when it blinds us to the immense pain and lasting damage those traditions and that legacy have caused. Ridding W&L of the name of Lee sends a critical signal that W&L is finally serious about becoming an institution that doesn’t just claim to run on honor, but actually creates an environment with zero tolerance for dishonorable behavior. A name change would be an outward step that should be paired with an inward overhaul of policies and structures that influence school culture, including regulation of greek activities among others.

To those who argue removing the name amounts to erasing history, I would respond that there are many aspects of history which need not be honored with the naming of a school, especially a top tier university.
To those who argue that removing the name threatens the values of the school, I ask “what values?” If Lee embodies the values of W&L, then those values include fighting for continued enslavement of human beings and enabling harassment and racism. Those “values” can go.

Having a school named after you is not an entitlement, it is an honor. And by continuing to keep this name (and, frankly, Washington’s as well), we are signalling that the university honors a man who fought for years to perpetuate white supremacy and dehumanization of millions of people. This is unacceptable. I am concerned about the reputation of the university, what that will do to future recruitment, and how that recruitment translates to financial health.

For too long I believed and vocally defended the misguided and harmful narrative of “we honor Lee the University President, not Lee the General.” I argued we should embrace the complexity of Lee as a flawed human, celebrate his contributions while also unpacking his gigantic failures, and use him as an opportunity to teach about the dangers of blind hero worship and the importance of a nuanced discourse.

I was wrong. Please, we cannot allow this huge mistake to harm anyone else.

The challenging position you are in is not lost on me. I urge you to make the brave choice that honors the future of the university, not the warped elements of the past.

Sincerely,

Shiri Yadlin

Undergraduate Class of 2012

Then to the Board of Trustees

Dear Board,

Thank you for dedicating the time and resources to thoughtfully consider changing the name of W&L as part of a wider ongoing strategy to make the university a more welcoming place where all students can thrive, regardless of race, income, gender, sexuality, or other identity market.

As an undergraduate alumna from the class of 2012, I wholeheartedly support a name change. I believe a name change is the “mindful of the future” approach that is not only a moral and just decision, but also a prudent one. W&L has a long history of name changes, and I believe we can still honor the role both Washington and Lee played in the school’s history without making them namesakes. 

I have great nostalgia and reverence for traditions, legacy, and history. Yet, this nostalgia becomes dangerous when it blinds us to the immense pain and lasting damage those traditions and that legacy have caused. Ridding W&L of the names of Lee and Washington sends a critical signal that W&L is finally serious about becoming an institution that doesn’t just claim to run on honor, but actually creates an environment with zero tolerance for dishonorable behavior. A name change would be an outward step that should be paired with an inward overhaul of policies and structures that influence school culture, including regulation of greek activities among others.

To those who argue removing the name amounts to erasing history, I would respond that there are many aspects of history which need not be honored with the naming of a school, especially a top tier university.

To those who argue that removing the name threatens the values of the school, I ask “what values?” If Lee and Washington embody the values of W&L, then those values include enslaving and assaulting human beings, fighting for the continuation of the right to do so, and enabling harassment and racism. Those “values” can go.

For too long I believed and vocally defended the misguided and harmful narrative of “we honor Lee the University President, not Lee the General.” I also chose to ignore or remain ignorant of the darker aspects of Washington’s life — not just owning slaves but also abusing and dehumanizing them.

I was wrong to do so. 

I am ashamed of the lies I perpetuated as a student tour guide and as an enthusiastic young alumna, and I wrestle with reconciling the beautiful memories I have of my time at W&L with the blatant racism, sexism, and classism I witnessed during my time as a student. I know that my white privilege had a huge role to play in shielding me from harm, and I feel responsible for using my voice to advocate for change so ALL students can feel welcome, safe, included, and able to thrive as a member of the community.
As a young alumna, I have decades of time ahead of me (God-willing) to continue giving back to the university. Were the Board to make the courageous choice to appropriately address the university’s harmful relationship with the confederacy, I would be proud to give financially as well as continuing to give my time and energy to mentoring students and young alumni.

The challenging position you are in is not lost on me. I urge you to make the brave choice that honors the future of the university, not the warped elements of the past.

Thank you for your time.
Best wishes,
Shiri Yadlin
Undergraduate Class of 2012

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