Part I: Methodology: Outreach and Response

I. Outreach

The commission considered the importance of gathering input from a broad range of community members. The commission created four sub-groups to host formal outreach sessions. Student members of the commission led conversations with student groups and organizations. Faculty members of the commission led conversations with groups of faculty members who attended and participated. Staff members of the commission led conversations with a wide array of staff members, including administrators, administrative support staff, library staff, dining and facilities employees, and others. Alumni members of the commission led structured telephone sessions. These conversations influenced how the commission examined and prioritized a myriad of concerns related to W&L's history and community.

From October through March, the commission hosted the meetings and phone calls. There were eight sessions for W&L law and undergraduate faculty; 16 sessions for university staff members; four telephone sessions for alumni totaling more than 400 alumni listening in or speaking; and one telephone session with the Black Alumni Working Group. There were also nine sessions with current students, including 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. In addition, the student sub-group attended student organization meetings and held weekly office hours through the end of March.

The commission also met with faculty members of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, the University Committee on Inclusiveness and Campus Climate, the vice president for University Advancement, the vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, the provost, the associate dean for Administration and Student Affairs at W&L Law, the vice president for Admissions and Financial Aid, and additional groups (see Appendix B).

Across all outreach meetings and call-in sessions, the commission asked similar 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? What images and motifs create discomfort?
  4. What specific aspects of the culture of W&L affected your decision to work/study here, and what specific aspects directly affect your experience here? How does it affect your current engagement as an alumnus or alumna?
  5. In what ways do you feel that our culture and history affect the experiences of our diverse students, staff and faculty? How might we increase diversity within the student body?
  6. What traditions are important to maintain as part of the W&L experience?

II. Response

Consistent themes emerged across the sessions:

  • Core values are honor, integrity, civility and rigorous scholarship.
  • Existing programs on campus reflect the core values, such as the Johnson Program, the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability, Spring Term, and the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics.
  • W&L does not tell the complete story of university history and of those who helped to shape it.
  • Robert E. Lee needs more critical examination and a more nuanced interpretation. Who was Lee? What does being linked to Lee mean?
  • There is a tension between preserving history and providing an educational experience that fosters success for all members of the campus community.
  • W&L needs greater diversity and more inclusiveness; student experiences are unequal.
  • Lee Chapel is not a comfortable place for many.
  • Other campus spaces need to be available in order to create new campus traditions.
  • W&L has failed to adequately tell the complete story of its ownership of enslaved people.
  • The university has a history apart from Lee, and that story should be told prominently.

For a detailed summary of comments received in the outreach sessions, emails and form submissions, please see Appendix B.

Some of the specific comments received from faculty and staff:

  • Leadership needs to be bold, clear and intentional in addressing issues of our history and in diversifying the faculty and student body.
  • Many institutions tell the story of their history, but W&L seems to tell the story of one man, and that story is not critical. The university tells stories of Lee that are favorable and limited to one period of his life, and even those stories are not completely accurate.
  • Lee served the university ably as president, raising funds and rethinking the curriculum.
  • Lee Chapel is a problematic site for many members of the community; it should be reconfigured or turned into a museum.
  • The marker on the Colonnade is inadequate in telling the story of enslaved people and their history and contributions to W&L.
  • The university needs to do more to create a welcoming atmosphere for diverse employees and students and a stronger infrastructure to retain them.
  • The exclusivity and cost of the Greek system need to be examined.
  • History cannot be erased, so it needs to be told accurately.
  • Use arts as one way of telling the university story and including diverse voices.
  • Honor is a core value, but we do not stitch its various meanings into a cohesive message.

Some of the specific comments received from students:

  • A more accurate telling of the life of Lee is necessary.
  • Lee should not be portrayed in Confederate uniform on campus.
  • Confederate flags should not be allowed in dorms and fraternity houses.
  • Holding events in the chapel is difficult for members of the community.
  • W&L is "not unmindful of the future" but is stuck in the past. The emphasis on tradition impedes progress.
  • While many students support the Greek system, there is an interest in more interaction between groups on campus. Social events, the cost, and the limited racial and ethnic diversity within most fraternities and sororities can make this a challenging environment for some students.
  • The student body should make an effort to cultivate an environment that attracts diverse students.
  • The university curriculum, professors and commitment to liberal arts are important.
  • Programs on campus give students opportunities to learn and face tough issues and give back to the community
  • There is a strong sense of community reflected by student self-governance.

Some of the specific comments received from alumni:

  • Expand first-year and faculty orientation to include a balanced history of the university. Examine history fully and tell it truthfully on and off campus. Utilize resources such as Special Collections more in teaching the university's history.
  • The university needs to provide resources and spaces that are welcoming to diverse students and additional resources to support diversity of faculty and staff.
  • There were specific concerns from some 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 of enrolling students across socioeconomic and racial and ethnic groups.
  • Important traditions are the Honor System, the Speaking Tradition, civility, and recognizing the contributions of George Washington and R.E. Lee.
  • Make images of underrepresented groups more visible on campus.
  • Fraternities and sororities can be exclusionary institutions.
  • The representation of Lee on campus was mixed. Some thought the "Recumbent Lee" statue in the chapel is problematic, while others thought the recognition of Lee throughout campus should remain unchanged.
  • Increase financial aid/make admissions need-blind.

In President Dudley's message announcing the membership of the Commission on Institutional History and Community, he called for the commission to:

  1. Examine how our history - and the ways that we teach, discuss and represent it - shapes our community. 
  2. Create various opportunities to engage in conversation with all corners of the community.
  3. Set a national example by demonstrating how the divisive issues can be addressed thoughtfully and effectively.

With this charge as the benchmark for the report, the commission has engaged with students, staff, faculty and alumni. The university community has asked for transparency in the examination of its history and recommendations for change.

Recommendation No. 1

Release the commission's report in full to the university community and post on the website.