Dear President Dudley,
Change is hard. Alumni objected when W&L admitted black students. Alumni objected when W&L went co-ed (and then enrolled their daughters and granddaughters). History has shown us that those decisions were the right choices for the University.
And now we are faced with another decision point – addressing the name “Lee” in the University name.
It’s already a very different world from just two years ago, when the report from the Commission on Institutional History and Community was released.
Confederate monuments are coming down across America. Corporations are changing problematic brand identities and logos. It’s not hard to imagine that Washington and Lee will be in the spotlight soon, and you’ll be tasked with repeatedly defending why an institution of higher learning is named after a Confederate General.
What side of history do we want to be on?
If you ask high school students–or their parents–who Robert E. Lee was and what he did, the answer will never be, “He spent five years as the president of a university that is now named for him.” Lee’s legacy is forever linked with choosing to fight against his nation and with defending slavery.
What kind of students will you attract with Lee’s name on the school?
Changing the University’s name is not without precedent – the trustees have already voted four times in our history to make that very change. Changing the name doesn’t deny history, but instead moves the University forward.
Alumni voices against change will be loud. Public sentiment is not on their side. The future of the University could very well depend on this decision.
What message does keeping the current name send to prospective students?
Removing the name “Lee” isn’t a solution for the diversity issues that the University faces. But it is a first step–and one that sets the tone for the future.
Change is inevitable. The time to act is now, while it is our choice to make. History will judge us for our actions –or inactions–today.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Susan Slopek Ferrara, 2003U