LEXINGTON, Va. (WRIC) — Students at Washington and Lee walked out of their classes and dorms at 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday to call for the university to change its name.
Ahead of the walkout today, a sign reading “No Lee” hung in front of Lee Chapel — named for Robert E. Lee. The chapel was built at the request of the former university president and confederate general. He is buried there along with multiple family members.
Another sign hung below it stating, “CHANGE THE NAME.”
As students walked out today they gathered in a large crowd on the lawn outside of the chapel. As of 2020, about 2,100 students were enrolled at W&L, photos from the walkout show hundreds of students participating in the call for change.
The school’s name is in tribute to George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
Washington provided an endowment for the school in the 18th century, helping bring what was then called Liberty Hall Academy, out of of economic hardship. The school’s name was eventually changed to Washington College.
Robert E Lee worked as the president of Washington College from 1865 to 1870, his death prompted the change to Washington & Lee University.
Overall across the school’s history, it has undergone five name changes. Now, students and faculty are calling for a sixth.
The section of W&L’s website dedicated to the naming history addresses concerns about names honoring polarizing historical figures.
“Both George Washington and Robert E. Lee are historical figures of considerable complexity. They are recognized for their pivotal roles in the history of our country and in the history of our institution. Yet they were also slaveholders. The University does not regard them as beyond critique. They deserve and require careful, critical examination of their lives, their words, and their deeds.”
The page goes on to address the Lee namesake more specifically, denouncing the confederate cause and “the views of individuals and groups who employ Confederate imagery to promote an agenda of white supremacy, racism, and xenophobia.”
The university however, makes no mention of plans to change the school’s name.
W&L shared the following statement with 8News in response to the walkout and protest:
Washington and Lee University supports our students’ right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. The Board of Trustees continues its detailed review of the university’s name and related issues, and the trustees’ highest priority has been to engage with and listen carefully to the views of every audience associated with W&L. The students have been afforded multiple means of communicating with the board, including a survey and student listening sessions, and today’s event is one more way they are making their voices heard. More than 15,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents have shared their views on these issues. The board has been carefully reviewing the massive amount of input it has received and remains open to additional contributions from anyone associated with the university.Washington and Lee University