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Washington and Lee name change decision will be made in June, rector says

Washington and Lee name change decision will be made in June, rector says

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SKD LEECHAPEL 051314 (copy)

Sculptor Edward Valentine’s recumbent statue of Robert E. Lee is the central figure in the Lee Chapel on the Washington and Lee University campus. The Confederate battle flags in the background have been removed since this photo was taken.

The Washington and Lee Board of Trustees will announce its name change decision in June, almost a year after the formation of a special committee to reconsider the university’s relationship to Robert E. Lee.

The deliberation over dropping Lee’s name from the university has been lengthy. It began in July , when the board formed a committee to gather input from all campus constituencies, analyze data and consult relevant experts.

Mike McAlevey, rector of the board, announced the June deadline in a Wednesday email to the university community.

“As always, we seek to act in the university’s best interests, and the multitude of considerations before us decade that we take the time necessary to make our best judgements,” McAlevey said. “We expect to reach and announce our conclusions in June.”

McAlevey said the board is also evaluating other questions and issues about diversity and inclusion that were raised during the process.

University faculty members are largely in favor of a name change, as they demonstrated by voting 188-51 to drop Lee’s name during a virtual meeting in July.

Some students also want to see Lee’s name removed from the university. A group of students organized a campus walkout event March 23 to advocate for the name change.

“We want [the Board of Trustees] to realize that pushing it off is not going to make us forget, even if they try to push it off to the summer when no one is on campus,” Otice Carder, a sophomore and one of the organizers of the event, said at the walkout.

Another student speaker at the event, Enuma Anekwe-Desince, a junior, said she thinks it’s unfathomable that Washington and Lee, a school that is struggling to attain and maintain diversity, is still venerating a Confederate general.

“Idolizing Robert E. Lee and wanting to increase the number of Black students on your campus is irreconcilable,” Anekwe-Desince said at the event. “I am eternally grateful for the opportunities that this school has provided me. But I won’t act like it hasn’t come at a cost.”

But other students, and many alumni are in favor of keeping the name.

Banners with the words “Retain the Name” have recently cropped up on campus in Elrod Commons, as well as on billboards and signs elsewhere in Lexington. Pamphlets about Lee’s presidency of the university have also been anonymously left at many building entrances.

When the board surveyed students, faculty, alumni and parents in October, receiving more than 14,000 responses, the data was similarly divided.

“We understand that there will be high interest and strong feelings regardless of the outcome of our deliberations,” McAlevey said in the May 5 email. “We know that those feelings arise from a shared love of the university and a desire to ensure its success in the future.”

He emphasized the importance of continued dialogue within the university community following the June announcement.

“We appreciate your ongoing patience as we undertake this critical work,” he said.

Lee was selected as president of a struggling Washington College a few months after surrendering to U.S. Grant at Appomattox in April 1865. Credited with stabilizing the college’s finances and modernizing its curriculum, Lee served in that role until his death in 1870. Almost immediately after his death, Lee’s name was added to George Washington’s. He is entombed on campus.

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