Frequently Asked Questions
- About the Process
- About the Decision
- About the Board of Trustees
- Student Experience
- Campus History and Symbols
- University Diploma
What factors were reviewed by the Board in this process?
The board's work was wide-ranging and included an assessment of the historical, political, moral, financial, operational and reputational considerations related to the university’s name and diploma, as well as broader issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.
What was the expected cost or loss of revenue associated with a name change?
Estimates are that it would be substantial. And while costs are important, that was only one factor of many that the board considered with respect to the name.
Did large donors threaten to withhold or stop donations?
The board heard strong views expressed by many different audiences. We hope our alumni will continue to support the institution as they always have.
How did the opinion research conducted with the W&L community impact the decisions? Which audiences favored a change and which did not?
The opinion research reflected the deep divisions within the W&L community across all audiences, with students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents voicing varying opinions that could not be neatly characterized according to age, gender, race, ethnicity and other factors. While there was no consensus on the issue of the university's name, there was broad support for sustained efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.
Will you release the survey results?
The survey is one of a number of elements that informed the Board of Trustees’ deliberations. The results were considered as one element in a holistic process and there are no plans to release them.
Other institutions, like Yale, Brown, George Mason, Rutgers and Johns Hopkins, have stood by their institutional names despite their namesakes’ actions. Others, like the University of Richmond, Princeton, Clemson and Yale have changed the names of buildings and programs. Is this being taken into account by the board?
The board has looked at a number of case studies from other universities as part of its process.
Did the board debate the moral implications of this decision?
As fiduciaries of the university, the board is both legally and ethically bound to act in the university's best interests. The trustees weighed the moral implications of this decision along with many other factors and ultimately concluded that continuing as Washington and Lee University would enable the university to build on its success and put it in a position to take the actions that have the greatest potential to help all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, included, and able to thrive.
At the same time, the trustees repudiated racism, racial injustice, and the denial of fundamental dignity to any individual in our society and expressed its regret for the university’s past veneration of the Confederacy, its perpetuation of “The Lost Cause” myths that sustained racism; and the fact that the university itself owned human beings and benefitted from their forced labor and sale. The board recommitted the university to rigorous and nuanced explorations of its history, with humility and honesty to acknowledge those moments when the university failed to live up to its ideals.
Were consultants engaged to assist with the Board’s analysis and ensure an unbiased review? Do we have a communications or public relations firm helping with the rollout of the decision?
The board has engaged a number of advisors in the course of its work and is bound by confidentiality agreements not to name the firms and individuals involved.
What are the specific requirements for changing the name of the university or altering its diploma?
Virginia law requires an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the trustees to amend the university’s charter to change the name. A decision to change the form of the diploma requires a majority vote.
What is the best way to communicate with the Board of Trustees?
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Was the board divided on the question of the name and other decisions announced?
While views within the board differed on the various issues considered, the board is fully united behind implementing the package of decisions announced on June 4 for the benefit of the university.
Was there a recorded vote? What were the results?
The motion to change the name of the university was defeated by a vote of 22-6.
Will you release the votes of each Board member?
No. The individual votes of the trustees are confidential.
Will there be opportunities for students, employees, alumni and parents to share their reactions to the board's decisions with trustees?
Yes. The university will communicate these opportunities via email in the coming days and weeks.
What is the current composition of the Board of Trustees by race/ethnicity and gender?
The board is currently composed of 28 trustees, six of whom are female and four of whom are trustees of color.
The board has committed to becoming more diverse. Is there a target percentage and date for that commitment?
There is no target percentage. Efforts to diversify the board's membership are already underway.
What has been the criteria and process for trustee selection to date?
The Trusteeship Committee of the board endeavors to identify strong candidates whose professional expertise, judgment and institutional service will benefit all aspects of the university. The full board elects new trustees. Beginning in Spring 2022, alumni also have the opportunity to directly elect a trustee at regular intervals.
Will the board expand its membership to add more diverse trustees immediately?
The board will diversify its membership over time, as new trustees are identified and agree to serve.
What will be the charge of the new DE&I committee?
The new standing committee will work in coordination with other board committees to place issues of diversity, equity and inclusion into its ongoing board agenda and to meet its stewardship obligation on these issues in furtherance of the University’s mission. Its primary functions will be to examine the diversity of the board's membership, educate the board on DE&I issues, and oversee both the administration's strategic DE&I goals and initiatives and its identification and assessment of institutional structures, policies, norms, and aspects of campus life that may create barriers to a fully inclusive campus experience.
About the Decision: Other Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Symbolic Efforts
What is need-blind admissions and why is it important?
Achieving need-blind admissions status would enable Washington and Lee to admit the strongest applicants, regardless of family financial circumstances. Becoming need-blind would make W&L one of only about a dozen colleges in the country to admit students without regard to their family's ability to pay, while also meeting 100 percent of their demonstrated need without requiring loans.
How will this decision help to further W&L's efforts to diversify the student body?
The university's outstanding academic reputation, breadth of student opportunities and financial strength have proven to be compelling reasons for students of all backgrounds to attend. The board believes this decision will enable the university to build on that success and put it in a position to attract an even more diverse student body while also taking the actions that have the greatest potential to help all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, included, and able to thrive.
What else are you doing to address W&L’s historical underperformance in recruiting students of color, and specifically Black students?
W&L has instituted a number of practices to increase the percentage of students of color in the student body. In the past six years, we have increased the percentage of undergraduate domestic students of color 77%, from 13% of the entering Class of 2020 to 23% in the Class of 2025. The percentage of Black students, including multi-racial students who identify as Black, entering the university has risen from 3.4% to 7% over the same period. The Class of 2025 includes 23% domestic students of color, of whom over 7% are Black, including multi-racial students who identify as Black.
What is taught in the first-year experience course?
The purpose of the course is to assist new students with their transition from high school to Washington and Lee University. This one-credit course, offered during the fall term, aims to foster a sense of belonging, articulate to students the expectations of the University and its faculty, empower students to solve problems with maturity, make students more likely to utilize resources and opportunities, and guide students as they clarify their purpose, meaning, and direction in college.
How will the new academic center have a positive impact on diversity and inclusion on campus?
The DeLaney Center will be an interdisciplinary academic hub for teaching and research on Southern race relations, culture, and politics, providing opportunities for intellectual diversity while deepening W&L’s investment in exploring diverse cultures across the curriculum. By connecting colleagues from multiple fields with complementary teaching and scholarly interests, the center will strengthen the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority faculty at W&L. These new faculty will develop courses that explore racial issues through a variety of disciplinary perspectives, benefitting students of all backgrounds and from many majors and minors.
The center's focus on race within the context of the American South will encourage students to produce original work supported by W&L’s extraordinary Special Collections & Archives, archaeology collections, and surrounding historical sites, and create student opportunities that complement those offered by Institutional History and Community Based Learning. These may include academic courses and co-curricular projects, pre-orientation trips for first-year students, an annual leadership conference for Virginia college students, summer internships for undergraduate and law students and a post-graduate internship program for new W&L graduates
Is the Board or the administration considering doing away with the Greek system?
No. The board has committed to an examination of campus residential and social institutions that current students and alumni have identified as barriers to a fully inclusive campus experience.
Are events still being held in the University Chapel?
Yes. University Chapel continues to host important annual campus events including the President's welcome to new students, the Executive Committee's Honor Orientation, the President's address on Parents' Weekend, and the Institute for Honor, as well as visiting speakers.
Is University Chapel open to the public?
The University Chapel and Galleries will reopen to the public in September 2023. The chapel's hours are posted to the Museums at W&L's website and social media channels.
Is the Recumbent Lee statue still on view to the public?
Yes, the statue chamber will be open to the public when the chapel reopens to visitors in early September. The partition acts as a visual separation between the statue chamber and the auditorium while allowing for freedom of movement between them.
Why did the Board of Trustees undertake this work?
As the Board of Trustees noted in its September 2022 message to the community, its decisions were guided by four key, overarching objectives: helping all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, included, and able to thrive on our campus; recognizing George Washington and Robert E. Lee for their important contributions to the institution; reaffirming the university's rejection of Confederate ideology; and presenting the University's entire history fully and honestly.
The chapel and the annex were conceived and built as two separate spaces with two separate purposes. The original 1868 chapel structure was envisioned by then-President Lee as a gathering place for the college community. The 1883 annex, including the Valentine statue of Lee, was conceived by members of the Lee Memorial Association, in consultation with Lee's widow, as a memorial to the former Confederate commander after his death and features him in his Confederate uniform. Originally known as "College Chapel," after Lee's death the building was variously referred to as "University Chapel," "Lee Memorial Chapel," "Memorial Chapel," and simply "Chapel" until 1918, when the Board of Trustees formally adopted the name "Lee Memorial Chapel." The Board's plan restores the building to its original name and recreates two separate but adjoined and publicly accessible spaces: one for university events and the other for the study of history.
What was the inspiration for the design of the new partition?
The design of the partition that separates the auditorium from the statue chamber was inspired by the original design of the College Chapel. The original chapel included a large three-panel leaded glass window, flanked by two narrower ones, that served as decorative elements on the stage. These windows were removed when the annex was added in 1883. As it was impossible to recreate the window design accurately without the original windows, the new design is intended to evoke the original design while providing a visual separation between the two spaces.
Will any of these changes impact the inclusion of the building on the register of National Historic Landmarks?
No. The university worked with federal and state agencies to ensure that the architectural modifications would not affect the chapel's national historic landmark status.
Is the university closing the chapel museum?
No. The museum consists of several galleries (Chapel Galleries) on the upper and lower levels of University Chapel. These galleries – which include the statue chamber, the “Setting the Stage” exhibit, Lee’s office, and the Lee Family crypt – remain open to the public.
What has become of the portraits of George Washington and Robert E. Lee that hung in the chapel?
Four portraits hung in the chapel auditorium from 1963 – 2021. All have been returned to display on campus:
- The Charles Willson Peale portrait of George Washington as a Colonel in the Virginia Regiment is on display in a new exhibit in our Reeves Museum. This portrait was prominently featured in exhibitions at Mount Vernon from 2018-2023.
- The 1903 Theodore Pine portrait of Robert E. Lee and the 1796 Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington are on display in the “Setting the Stage” exhibit in the galleries on the lower level of University Chapel.
- The 1866 portrait of Robert E. Lee by J. Reid, which hung in the auditorium alongside the Stuart portrait of Washington from 2018-2020, is on display in Lee House.
Are there still references to George Washington and Robert E. Lee on campus?
In addition to the name of the institution, George Washington’s contributions are acknowledged in the name of Washington Hall, the statue atop that building, the gallery in its lobby, and on the university’s Honored Benefactors Wall. A contemporary copy by William Winstanley of Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 full-length portrait of Washington (Lansdowne version) hangs in Leyburn Library. Robert E. Lee’s contributions are acknowledged in the president’s home, which was built for Robert E. Lee when he was president of Washington College and continues to bear the name “Lee House,” and in the Chapel Galleries, where Lee’s memorial statue, former office and family crypt remain open to the public. Portraits and busts of both men are also included in the “Setting the Stage” exhibit in the Chapel Galleries.
What happened to the plaques that were removed from the chapel and other locations on campus?
As part of the Board of Trustees’ directives to restore the University Chapel auditorium to a simple, unadorned design, several plaques on campus have been updated or relocated. All of them have been preserved.
Most of the plaques, including the plaque dedicated to the Liberty Hall Volunteers that once hung in the entry to the chapel, will be moved to galleries within the Chapel itself or to the new history museum, where they can be displayed with more historical context. Three plaques, two honoring World War I veterans and one honoring a Vietnam War veteran, have been moved to the Memorial Gate at the Jefferson Street entrance to campus, where they are displayed with other plaques honoring U.S. veterans.
Two plaques related to Lee’s presidency were moved from Payne Hall, and two plaques dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to commemorate Lee’s horse Traveller were also moved. All four plaques will be installed in new exhibits. Traveller’s remains were untouched, and a new grave marker signifying the horse’s lifespan (1857-1871) -- in keeping with the style of the grave markers in the Lee Family crypt -- was installed at the same location. A new interpretive marker relating to Traveller’s history will replace the current interpretive marker at the gravesite this fall, and a nearby plaque dedicated to Anne Wilson, former first lady of W&L, will be updated and moved to a new location in consultation with the Wilson family.
Will the Traveller plaque on the side of the Lee House garage be replaced?
The Traveller plaque that was relocated from the Lee House garage for inclusion in a future exhibit will be replaced this fall with a new plaque consistent with the style of other plaques on campus.
Does the University plan to move the Recumbent Lee statue, Lee's remains, Traveller’s remains, or the Lee Family crypt?
Will there be other changes to campus buildings, signage, etc.?
With the addition of the new exhibits in the Chapel Galleries and the new Museum of Institutional History, the Board will have fulfilled all of the commitments related to campus buildings, symbols and practices that it made to the Washington and Lee community in June 2021.
Will W&L consider requiring a course on institutional history?
The academic curriculum is the purview of W&L's faculty. There are already a number of courses on campus that focus on or incorporate various aspects of W&L's history.
Is there any commitment to honor the descendants of enslaved individuals sold by W&L?
Upon the recommendation of the Working Group on the History of African Americans at W&L, the university erected a historical marker on campus in 2016 recognizing the enslaved individuals owned by Washington College until the mid-1800s. The university is currently engaged in historical and genealogical research on African Americans, both enslaved and free, who labored on campus over the course of its history.
Can graduates who wish to replace their diplomas with the new design get a new one? When? How?
All future graduates will receive the new diploma. Prior graduates have the option to replace their diplomas with the new design. Details are available on the Registrar's website.