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Appendix B Outreach

I. Faculty Outreach

In October and November 2017, commission members facilitated eight faculty outreach sessions, including one session with faculty affiliated with the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. Faculty members responded to the following questions:

  1. What are our core values? What elements of our campus reinforce or are in conflict with these values? How could our campus better reflect these values?
  2. How do our curriculum, programs and initiatives reflect our core values?
  3. What story or stories does our physical campus tell? Are those stories accurate?
  4. What images and motifs create discomfort?
  5. What specific aspects of the culture of W&L affected your decision to work here, and what specific aspects directly affect your experience here?
  6. In what ways do you feel our culture and history affect the experiences of our diverse students, staff and faculty?

A. Common Themes

  • The association with Robert E. Lee needs to be examined.
  • Lee Chapel has to be repurposed, or a new space should be identified for university gatherings.
  • Use the curriculum to provide factual narratives on history.
  • Investment in hiring and recruiting a more diverse faculty and student body should be a priority.

B. Faculty Comments and Recommendations

Faculty members provided the most input on the university's connection to Lee, ways to increase diversity, and how to improve the campus climate and physical spaces.

  • The community needs to discuss: Who was Lee? What does it mean to be linked to him? What does "Lee the educator" mean?
  • Lee's name is a barrier, and places on campus should be renamed.
  • Ignoring Lee the general and focusing on a narrow band of his life doesn't work with the wider world.
  • W&L needs to de-emphasize Lee, and that would not diminish what is special and loving about this institution.
  • Students may pass on applying to W&L because of the name.
  • Lee led an army to defend slavery and fought a war over it. That's enough reason to change the name of the school. What he did after the war pales in significance.
  • Solving the issues of the physical campus will be fairly easy, but the question of identity is fraught. What values are involved with the school's name?
  • Don't rename the university.
  • The university has no coherent message about the physical campus, and athletic programs have had to create a narrative for the prospective athletes who tour W&L
  • Does the Robinson slave marker tell the whole story?
  • Should the Trident symbol continue to be used? It is mistaken for a swastika.
  • "Generals" is a generic term and does not refer to Washington and/or Lee.
  • "The Generals" sports name should go.
  • Need for honest history - add Southern history that is honest.
  • This is an institution that propagates traditions. Many have a strong emotional connection to the university and its current name. Process matters. Deliberate action is necessary and may not happen quickly enough for some people. Fact-finding will separate fact from myth. This takes time, and documenting reasons for change will be important.
  • Need to present an honor tradition not rooted in Lee.
  • Consider how talk of campus civility and honor is an attempt to encourage conformity and politeness, to stifle dissent.
  • Keep in mind there are some things worth honoring.
  • Think about what people we want to honor.
  • Examine goals. W&L wants to be a cutting-edge institution of higher learning, and to be one mired in its own heritage and history. The two goals are contradictory.
  • Making changes may make W&L a target for white supremacists who were in Charlottesville.
  • W&L should not worry about angry alumni.
  • Changes at W&L must not be superficial.
  • Lee Chapel should be renamed "the chapel," and Lee House should be "the President's House."
  • The "Recumbent Lee" statue should be separated from the rest of the visible apse of the chapel.
  • Lee Chapel should not be used for university events like the Honor System orientation or first-year orientation; it is not a neutral space although is explained as one.
  • The name of Lee-Jackson House should change.
  • Students absorb Lee as a symbol of honor; stories on campus and how they translate to the world are a problem; the history of presidents on wlu.edu has more paragraphs on the five years of the Lee administration than the other descriptions; students need to have fuller stories.
  • The "Recumbent Lee" statue should be removed, and the chapel could be more multipurpose.
  • Chapel is too small for university convocation and graduation; need to build a larger space.
  • Need for a better university museum than one in chapel; library desires to expand Special Collections.
  • Need to tell the history of John Chavis and tell that story as loudly as possible.
  • Change the name of Robinson Hall.
  • Need for a painting of Lee in civilian dress rather than a military uniform.
  • Evans Hall could be used more often to offset use of the chapel.
  • The university store is problematic; too many books and items there that do not help W&L's image.
  • W&L needs to increase faculty of color as a means of attracting a more diverse student body.
  • Strategy for recruiting diverse students needs to go beyond the QuestBridge Scholars Program. Posse provides the advantage of cluster recruitment and brings campus leaders.
  • Faculty cluster hiring should occur.
  • Administration needs to diversify at the upper levels.
  • Targeting more diverse faculty members means preparing to have a climate where there is less consensus and more contention.
  • Need to talk about fraternities and sororities. Eighty percent Greek mitigates against diversity. Students need to have choices about social life. Not enough of an independent student population to make W&L a truly welcoming school.
  • Can we add enough diverse students without changing population size? Need to examine the non-diverse population.
  • Examine why students of color turn down Johnson full scholarships.
  • Need for a more visual display of Robinson slaves; alternate spaces in library for W&L history.
  • Shepherd Program is most diverse program on campus; use it as a means of recruiting students.
  • Implement curricular changes to address some of our problems, and involve students in those changes.
  • More programs like Bonner could change campus culture.
  • Call for faculty involvement in Freshman book selection for orientation
  • Tie accreditation for the Journalism Department to achieving a more diverse student population.
  • A curriculum that promotes diversity.
  • Need to consult with other colleges and institutions who deal with issues like W&L - examples of Princeton and Monticello; Monticello's slave narrative impressed W&L literature students who visited with a professor; Monticello suggested as a possible model.
  • Seek funding for recommendations.

II. Staff Outreach

Commission members facilitated 16 sessions with staff over a two-week period and spoke with approximately 160 employees. Staff members responded to the following questions:

  1. What are our core values? What elements of our campus reinforce or are in conflict with these values? How could our campus better reflect these values?
  2. How do our curriculum, programs and initiatives reflect our core values?
  3. What story or stories does our physical campus tell? Are those stories accurate?
  4. What images and motifs create discomfort?
  5. What specific aspects of the culture of W&L affected your decision to work here, and what specific aspects directly affect your experience here?
  6. In what ways do you feel our culture and history affect the experiences of our diverse students, staff and faculty?

A. Common Themes

  • W&L tells the story of one man - and the story is not told critically. Stories of Lee are favorable and contained to one brief period of his life, and even those stories are not completely accurate. The campus tells the story of white, male patriarchs.
  • Lee Chapel and Museum causes discomfort, and sometimes harm, to members of the community.
  • W&L offers wonderful employment opportunities and employees stay because of the people they work with. Employees genuinely care about W&L. They take pride in their work.
  • Faculty and staff are moving out of Lexington due to its homogenous population. It does not offer a welcoming atmosphere for diverse employees. LGBTQI community is hidden.
  • W&L needs a physical space more conducive to large gatherings of the university community other than Lee Chapel.
  • Core values include the Speaking Tradition and unique history.

B. Staff Comments and Recommendations

  • The marker at Robinson Hall is inadequate in telling the story of enslaved people and their history and contributions to W&L. 
  • Confederate flags in the community are inappropriate and shocking.
  • The Greek system does little to create or maintain diversity and in fact contributes to a country club environment of W&L. 
  • The university needs to do more to create a welcoming atmosphere for diverse employees and students, and a stronger infrastructure is needed to retain diverse employees and faculty. 
  • How can the Honor System not translate to other parts of student life? It is only academic.
  • The university store and museum store merchandise need to be assessed.
  • The Honor Book signing in Lee Chapel is inconsistent with the mission.
  • "The Generals" sports teams convey reverence for their war history.
  • Programs and initiatives are about 10 years behind the rest of higher education. W&L is very traditional/cautious in our approach to change. Examine this trend.
  • W&L needs a welcome center that invites everyone to learn history accurately and thoroughly.
  • Discussions like these are important. People want to discuss contemporary issues and are hungry for the opportunity to convene.
  • W&L needs to provide a wider range of social programming. 

III. Student Outreach

Commission members held nine sessions with current students, which included members of the Executive Committee, the Student Bar Association, the Black Law Student Association, the College Democrats, the Panhellenic Council, the College Republicans, the Student Judicial Council, the Student Association for Black Unity, and the Interfraternity Council. Additionally, the student members of the commission attended student organization meetings and held weekly office hours in Elrod Commons through the end of March 2018.

In November, commission members emailed the student leaders of 32 organizations for feedback. Responses were requested from students and the organization as a whole and from individual students. Additional responses were received from these groups and individuals:

  • Amnesty International (Undergrad)
  • Federalist Society (Law)
  • SBA 3L President

Students responded to the following questions:

  1. What story or stories does our physical campus tell? Are those stories accurate?
  2. What are our core values? What elements of our campus reinforce or are in conflict with these values? How could our campus better reflect these values?
  3. What images and motifs create discomfort?
  4. W&L struggles to attract diverse students and faculty due to lack of diversity. What could be done to greater improve diversity?
  5. How do our curriculum, programs and initiatives reflect our core values?
  6. What specific aspects of the culture of W&L affected your decision to come here, and what specific aspects directly affect your experience here? 

A. Common Themes

  • The names of buildings say a lot about the school, but many of these stories aren't known to most students, so some stories are lost.
    • R. E. Lee is important - he saved the college. It would be disingenuous to remove Lee, but there is more of a presence of Lee on campus than Washington.
    • There is a disconnect between the new and old areas of campus.
    • Few buildings are named for women.
  • The markers about the Robinson slaves and John Chavis tell an important and lesser-known story, and more of this is necessary. The markers are poorly placed.
  • The normalization of Confederate history on campus and in Lexington can be unsettling.
  • Homogeneous architecture reflects the general homogeneity between ethnic and socioeconomic groups on campus.
  • Tours are the first and only interaction with W&L history. Conflicting ideas on whether tours are accurate, but agreement that  Special Collections is underutilized.
  • Law students and undergraduate students have varied experiences and perceptions.
  • The Colonnade is the face of W&L.
  • Strong sense of community reflected by student self-governance.
  • W&L's academic reputation is a strength.
  • There is tension between the ideals and practice of the Honor System.

B. Student Comments and Recommendations

  • Having Robert E. Lee's portrait in a Confederate uniform or a statue of him in uniform is inaccurate to this campus. Lee was not a fan of the Lost Cause.
  • Many students see the Greek system as a positive. Yet some question how the community says diversity is a core value, but isn't acting on it. There are divisions between students fueled by class differences, a predominately white student body, and predominately white Greek system around which social events revolve. This disconnect should be examined.
  • Provide support for multicultural and Greek-life independent students.
  • W&L is "not unmindful of the future," but is stuck in the past. The emphasis on tradition impedes progress.
  • Money is a prerequisite to fitting in, and it's assumed that every student comes from a similar socioeconomic status.
  • Continue emphasis on liberal arts education.
  • The movement towards global learning and diversity must be balanced with remembering the past.
  • There is freedom to voice your opinion without being attacked. All ideas are welcome, especially in the classroom.
  • Having talks in the chapel venerates R. E. Lee — some students don't go to events in Lee Chapel.
  • W&L is not always careful in its portrayal of Lee — we shouldn't see him dressed as a general, but as a president.
  • "Recumbent Lee" looks like he is being worshipped.
  • The bookstore's Lee paraphernalia shows a lack of understanding of history.
  • Holding honor orientation at Lee Chapel is mandatory and unexplained.
  • W&L cannot highlight only the positive characteristics of founders and benefactors without also recognizing the negative qualities.
  • The campus is covered in whiteness. Commemorate Chavis or John Minor Wisdom. Many of the paintings and photos celebrate the history only of white men, which leads to a bad perception of the school by visiting students.
  • Encourage students to attend the great speakers that come to campus.
  • Use the curriculum to have tough discussions. Small classes allow for this to happen.
  • FDR's should reflect our commitment to diversity.
  • Support programs that give student opportunities to learn, and face tough issues and give back.
  • Closing the gap between the undergrad and the law school would be beneficial to both.
  • Admissions should provide more financial aid and scholarships. Admissions officers should travel to more diverse places.
  • Some concluded that diverse students not wanting to attend W&L isn't a problem, while others thought it was an opportunity for diverse students to positively impact the campus.
  • Create greater interactions between groups on campus. The Greek system should be more inclusive with independent community. The student body should make an effort to cultivate an environment that attracts diverse students.
  • W&L can't bring diverse students here and then expect them to do all the work. Students want to go to college, not to have to fight and overcome, but diverse students have to fight every day. Some students don't fully understand the benefits of a diverse student body.
  • There were different perspectives on the university name. Some believe that the name of the school should not change. Alumni would not support a change, and the school would be harmed. Others noted that W&L cannot attract diverse students with Lee in the name.
  • Students believe that this is W&L's opportunity to be an educator and a leader on how to deal with controversial historical figures.

There is division in the student body between the majority and underrepresented groups. Perceptions of culture, history and traditions vary greatly between these students. Many of these opinions are in direct conflict with each other. Overall, the student body generally recognizes a need and opportunity for W&L to increase diversity and inclusion on campus. Students agree that improvements are possible, although opinions range on how this should be done and to what degree.

IV. Alumni Outreach

The commission hosted four alumni calls in November and December 2017. More than 400 alumni registered to listen, and 80 alumni signed up to speak. Each speaker was given three minutes to speak. Each call started with a three-minute overview of why the commission was formed and the process. Callers were asked to follow W&L's tradition of civility. The speakers generally reflected the demographics of the alumni population in terms of gender and race (i.e. more men than women and mostly white). Participants on the calls represented eight decades of W&L students, from 1946 to 2017.

Although the name of the university was not one of the topics, since this feedback was requested via email, numerous callers mentioned the topic. The majority favored keeping the name; some speakers mentioned that the commission should provide recommendations to serve the best long-term interest of the school — even changing the name.

  1. How can we improve the way we teach, discuss and represent our history?
  2. How did W&L's history and culture impact you as a prospective student, and as a student? How do they affect your current engagement as an alumnus or alumna?
  3. Washington and Lee has the least-diverse student body among peer institutions, which contributes to the choice of highly qualified, admitted students of all backgrounds to attend other universities. How might we increase diversity within the student body?
  4. Are there any spaces (buildings, places, objects) on our campus, or any content on the website or in our publications, that are inconsistent with W&L's core values of honor, integrity, civility and citizenship in a global and diverse society?
  5. What traditions are important to maintain as part of the W&L experience?

A. Common Themes

  • The work of the commission is important.
  • Examine what diversity means. Some view diversity as consistent with the values of the university and specifically want to ensure that race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status are the focus of these efforts. Others believe diversity should not focus on race and ethnicity. Diversity of opinion and other characteristics are more important.
  • Important traditions include the Honor System, Speaking Tradition, civility, and honoring Robert E. Lee.
  • Academic excellence is a strength. Use this to examine history and create a narrative that is complete.
  • Tell a more complete story about Robert E. Lee.
  •  Many alumni commented on the name, which is further summarized in the email summary.

B. Alumni Comments and Recommendations

  • Expand first-year and faculty orientation to include a balanced history of the university.
  • Examine history fully and tell it truthfully.
  • Utilize Special Collections more in teaching the university's history.
  • The university needs to provide resources and spaces that are welcoming to diverse students.
  • Additional resources to support diversity of faculty and staff.
  • Financial aid or need-blind admissions are important.
  • Examine why fraternities and sororities are exclusionary institutions.
  • The "Recumbent Lee" statue in the chapel is problematic for some, while many others support retaining the current placement.
  • Include a history class in the core curriculum/FDR.
  • Build on the university timeline to show W&L influence and roll through all phases of U.S. history - good and bad
  • Some callers expressed specific concerns about making sure that racial and ethnic diversity were not the focus of student recruitment, and that there are other characteristics that make a person diverse.
  • W&L needs to do a better job in enrolling students across socioeconomic groups.
  • Student culture impacts student decisions to attend W&L. Many view the school as rich, white, Southern and Greek, and this is an environment that doesn't support people who don't have these characteristics.
  • End preferential treatment for children of alumni.
  • De-emphasize binding early decision.
  • Fraternities and sororities are institutions of exclusiveness and antithetical to diversity.
  • Spend more money, effort and time recruiting students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and on recruitment, which can occur in a broader base of high schools.
  • Lower the cost of the school — no longer a best buy, which means some folks never even look at the school.
  • Alumni need to be involved — they are our greatest resource.
  • Need diversity of opinion within the faculty (i.e., need more conservative faculty).
  • Partner with historically black colleges and universities.
  • Plaque commemorating enslaved people is small, hidden and inconsequential.
  • Other relics of Lee that are troublesome are Traveller's grave, Lee's office, Lee's death mask, and images of Lee as a general rather than president.
  • Enhance numbers of images of people of color or women.

V. Meetings

The commission met with the following as part of its outreach:

  • University Committee on Inclusiveness and Campus Climate
  • Dennis Cross, Vice President for University Advancement
  • Sidney Evans, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students
  • Marc Conner, University Provost
  • Paul Rollins, Associate Dean for Administration and Student Affairs, School of Law
  • Sally Stone Richmond, Vice President for Admissions and Financial Aid
  • Brant Hellwig, Dean, School of Law
  • Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program
  • Campus Coalition for Change (new student group pressing for change on a number of issues relating to diversity and use of Lee Chapel)
  • Blaine Brownell, alumnus and author of Washington and Lee University, 1930-2000 (2017)
  • Adam Lewis, alumnus who has researched the descendants of the Robinson enslaved persons
  • Barton A. Myers, Associate Professor of History
  • Elizabeth Knapp, Chair, Working Group on the History of African-Americans at W&L; Professor of Geology; Director, Johnson Program in Leadership and Integrity

VI. Email Summary

The commission received over 400 emails and written submissions from students, faculty, staff, alumni, family and the public. Due to the volume of correspondence, the commission did not provide individual responses and so includes a summary in this report. University communications staff helped categorize the emails to provide the group with a mechanism for reviewing the feedback in an organized manner. The categories included general suggestions, recommended reading and resources, and approaches on receiving input from the community.

Several themes emerged in the communications that gained prominence, in part based on the questions selected to guide the outreach meetings and calls. The name of the university in particular generated significant emails. The commission members charged with alumni outreach requested that any comments on this topic be directed to the inbox to ensure that discussion on other topics would fill the speaking slots designated for each call. Before the commission began formal outreach, discussions were already occurring across the university community on whether the naming of the university would be central in deliberations. The commission did not have a predetermined objective on this topic. After preliminary discussion, the commission deemed it necessary to address the topic, because it had already generated significant interest and concern.

More than one third of the electronic communication centered on the name of the university. The majority of the comments affirmed that Robert E. Lee is central to the university; that his name should be retained; and that Lee's contributions to Washington College after the Civil War are notable, as recognized by the trustees' decision at his death. There was notable dissent on this contribution. Much of the dissent did not dispute the value of Lee in relation to Washington College. The primary contention was the potential damage to the institution because of its affiliation with Lee. He is more commonly known for his role in leading the Confederate army.

Another topic of significant feedback was the subject of diversity and a discussion on why there was a specific question on this area. The commission did not define diversity explicitly in the question, but did provide further context when requested. In 2017, there were reports that Washington and Lee had the lowest racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity among peer institutions, and this data did influence this question. The commission also recognized that geography, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political belief, national origin and disability, among many other categories, contribute to the composition of the students, faculty and staff at W&L. The decision to include diversity as a specific topic was further influenced by its prominence in strategic planning discussions, and the commission concurred that this topic was relevant and necessary. The email responses on diversity are consistent with descriptions in the alumni summary.

Additional themes communicated in the emails include the importance of honor and transparency throughout the process, and a thorough examination of the historical contributions of George Washington and Robert E. Lee to the university at the time that those contributions were recognized. There was significant concern about the university developing an ahistorical narrative to advance a belief about both men. The resounding message was to be critical, deliberative and objective in contextualizing their contributions to the university. The value emerged as well of creating an accurate narrative on how their contributions to the university impact the current campus climate and culture. Lastly, many of the emails asserted that W&L needs to set a standard in the communities of Lexington and higher education with its examination of complex people and histories.