Washington and Lee Retains Name Despite Pressure, But Commits Millions to New Race Center

Campus of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. (Travel_Bug/Getty Images)

Washington and Lee University announced that it would keep its name after months of deliberations in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S.

Rather than scrubbing the names of George Washington and confederate general Robert E. Lee from the university, as many activists demanded, the board of trustees unveiled a $225 million “strategic plan” to showcase the school’s commitment to racial equity.

The sum includes $160 million for additional financial aid, along with $40 million in funds toward curriculum “enhancements.” Part of that $40 million will be used to establish a new center for the study of “Southern race relations, culture, and politics.”

“As we focus on the future, our goal is to build a more diverse community, enhance inclusion for everyone at W&L, and support the professional success of our students and employees,” the university said in a press release announcing the initiative. “We have reviewed campus symbols, names and practices, and we are making changes to remove doubt about our separation from the Confederacy and the Lost Cause.”

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While the Board of Trustees said it would “form a Board committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” no specific funds were announced toward that effort. The board voted 22-6 on Friday to keep the university name, although it will rename the university’s “Lee Chapel” building as “University Chapel,” and cease celebrating its Founders Day on Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

The vote came after eleven months of deliberations regarding the school’s name.

High schools, colleges, military bases and other institutions around the country which are named after historical figures connected to slavery or the confederacy have considered renaming in the wake of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests last summer. Those protests, along with widespread riots, were sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a former Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.

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