Generals Redoubt Argues Against Changing Name

Open Letter Sent To W&L Board Of Trustees

The Generals Redoubt, a Washington and Lee alumni and friends group whose goal is to preserve the history, values and traditions of the university, sent an open letter to W&L’s board of trustees last week, laying out its arguments for not changing the school’s name.

Financial implications and branding dominate the first part of the letter, with some mention of the values of forgiveness later on, as well as the character building inherent in confronting uncomfortable histories.

The “W&L” brand is well established — the cost of rebranding significant, the letter notes. That’s money that could be put toward need-blind admissions, which might attract a more diverse population. Meanwhile, potential losses of revenue could “harm economically disadvantaged students and undermine diversity efforts.”

The group says that donors are less likely to donate if the name is changed.

In the survey that the group conducted among its members, 70 percent of the 2,000 who responded indicated that they would not donate if the name were changed. The letter also includes a warning: some alumni might even seek refunds for their prior gifts, arguing that their donations were meant for a university called “Washington and Lee.”

The group is attempting to influence a special committee that was formed by the board of trustees in summer 2020, whose purpose is to conduct a “deep and detailed review of our symbols and our name.”

This action came after well-publicized petitions from faculty, alumni and students, which called for the removal of Robert E. Lee from the university’s name following the death of George Floyd and ensuing Black Lives Matter protests around the country.

“Minority students decide to attend a college or university based on a va riety of factors —academic athletic, financial, social etc. — not because of a person or persons for whom a college is named,” the letter from the Generals Redoubt argues, using as its citation the letter that former trustees sent to the W&L board in June 2020.

The group also states that, while it supports diversity efforts, “changing the name will really do nothing to solve the challenges of diversity and race: It would be simply an empty, symbolic gesture, one which prevents leveraging the university’s strong, national reputation.”

By removing the name, “You would tarnish the Judeo-Christian belief in the concept of personal redemption,” the letter states. “Lee was one of the nation’s leading advocates for reconciliation between North and South after the Civil War.”

The letter was sent to the board last Wednesday, prior to its regular meeting in February. The board has not indicated when the special committee’s work would be completed.

The open letter can be accessed in its entirety on The News-Gazette’s website.

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