A Message to Alumni and Parents

To: W&L Alumni and Parents
From: President Will Dudley
Date: June 4, 2020

Earlier this week I wrote to Washington and Lee’s students, faculty, and staff to express my frustration, sadness, and anger with the killing of George Floyd and with the persistent racism and inequities that plague our nation. Today I want to share some additional thoughts with alumni and parents, all of whom are connected by virtue of your abiding relationship with this institution.

First, we must condemn the perpetration of violent misconduct by people who are sworn to serve and protect us all.  We stand with those who peacefully demand justice and equality, and we stand against systems and practices that obstruct the realization of those ideals.

Second, to our black alumni and parents, although I have not shared your experience and cannot put myself in your place, I share your outrage.  The outpouring of grief and anger in protests across the country comes in the midst of a global pandemic that has devastated communities, sown widespread fear, and kept us at a maddening distance from one another.  Nerves are frayed.  People are weary and hurting.  None more than people of color, who continue to bear the burden of racial inequities in our society.

Education is the best antidote to prejudice and discrimination. There is no better way to challenge our own assumptions and come to appreciate cultural differences than to live and learn together with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Here at Washington and Lee, our community of trust is an additional asset.  We value character as well as intellect.  Our mission is noble and demands a great deal from us.  It commits us to helping students develop their capacities to think freely, critically, and humanely, and to conduct themselves with honor, integrity, and civility.  The core values we instill in our graduates prepare them for responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.

Each fall I teach an ethics seminar that examines our mission.  Our students and I discuss what we mean by honor, integrity, and civility, and how those values are reflected in our choices and experiences.  I am proud of the way our students grapple with the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable question of what it means to have the courage to uphold these values – which bind all generations at W&L – in their own lives and circumstances.

Our commitment to making Washington and Lee a more diverse, inclusive, and supportive institution has never been more important or more urgent. Attracting the most talented and determined students and teachers from all demographic groups and creating an environment in which every single person at W&L feels welcome and included is critical to the quality of the education we offer.  It will increase the already considerable impact of our alumni on the pressing challenges we face in our country, now and in the future.

W&L students and alumni do not shy away from difficulty. They lead. In this moment, we must each do our part to elevate and inspire our communities. On campus, in Lexington, and around the country, we need to listen to each other, learn from each other, appreciate what makes us different, and hold fast to our common humanity.

I ask you to join me in the work ahead. Together we will rise to this occasion.