Is “Leadership” the Perpetuation of Hate at Washington and Lee?

My spouse ’04 and I ’02 are alum-mates, classes of 2004 and 2002. In fact, if you met us, you might think that we are people on a postcard from W&L’s marketing materials.

We benefitted tremendously from our educations at W&L. We rarely make it back to campus given the demands of work, educating our children, and furthering our careers. As the years have passed, more and more of our friends have told us that they feel alienated from W&L, but we did not share or understand that feeling until February 26, 2020.

It was a rattling thaw of awareness.

We were visiting Charleston, SC, for the wedding of a W&L alum friend, a two-hour plane ride from home. Charleston was busier than we expected due to the Trump rally just outside of town, but the wedding capitol of the USA was a distance away and just as bustling with locals as any other weekend. We decided to go get coffee and a biscuit at Callie’s.

Callie’s is insta-famous and always has a long line down King Street, full of cheerful tourists and hungry locals. We joined them.

The white man in front of us recognized my polo shirt, with a W&L embroidered trident on a blue background. With a glimmer of familiarity, he launched into his appeal, looking past my wife as if she wasn’t there.

He was part of an influential group at W&L. He has friends on the Board of Trustees. He knows Johnson’s boy, and he is a tough sell, but with my support, maybe, just maybe, they can win him over. Won’t I help them Storm the Board for Lee?

He also told us that they were raising funds for the effort “all over Columbia”. He was disappointed in his son, a recent alum, for giving the Annual Fund a small donation. In lieu of my Annual Fund donation, wouldn’t I consider giving to his group, the Loyal White Knights of W&L, so that we could “storm the board for Lee” together?

I didn’t recognize his group’s name, so I declined to donate and wished him a good day.

When we got home, in with a great many pleas for financial donations in the wake of Covid-19 closures came President Dudley’s ask for support to refund families a pro-rated share of their room and board.

Without hesitation, we sent a small donation, a show of support.

If you were a student at W&L in 2018, you know who we met in Charleston that Saturday morning. You saw his advertising on your campus several years ago.

You, the current students of Washington and Lee, are wise to write about your experiences and to share them before you leave this place. Tell your friends of all colors. You belong. Hate does not belong.

In my junior year, I recall a professor telling a group of us, “Why don’t you all stand up for something? You just accept what comes your way.”

Not anymore.

This is why we have to listen to our faculty now. They voted, for the first time since 1870.

The KKK thinks that they control our Board of Trustees. They think that they control our financial priorities more than our administration and faculty do. They think that they can influence the thinking of every white male alum wearing a W&L polo shirt more than the current students and faculty can.

If we keep the name the same, then we are voting for the KKK to control our school. A name is powerful. As it stands, our name stands for white supremacy to the white supremacists. It stands for separatism, for racism, for hate- not to the alums we know, but to those who hate.

Washington and Lee is not controlled by a hate group.

The days of Lee are in our past, rightfully on display in the museum and buried in the ground, curated by a dedicated group of educators and scholars in the Institutional History Department.

Is the Board of Trustees so heavily influenced by a hate group?