Since Washington and Lee University integrated in 1966, many students, administrators, support professionals and professors of color have experienced painful indignities and abuse. Too often, members of the university community have dismissed these experiences. Some have asked why those colleagues came to an institution named after Washington and Lee, one that is home to Lee’s tomb. That is segregationist thinking and not appropriate.
Our university’s veneration of both men implicitly signals continuing support for racial subordination and violence. An honest accounting of the school’s history and the roles of its power structures are instructive — and necessary to lasting progress. Some white faculty members have received media attention for the petition to remove Lee’s name, but this movement has been driven by black voices. Though many white colleagues are rightly outraged over recent cases of black dehumanization, many remained silent when it was less socially acceptable to speak out.
As recently as February, when many law students, support professionals and a few professors petitioned (unsuccessfully) for students to have the option to remove images of Lee and Washington from their diploma, a significant share of tenured white faculty did not sign.