Commitment to Diversity and Freedom of Expression

President Dudley sent the following message to student leaders in response to a petition calling for the cancellation of an event sponsored by a recognized student organization. 

Date: March 28, 2023

Thank you for meeting with me to share your concerns regarding the upcoming College Republicans’ event featuring Matt Walsh. I appreciated the opportunity to hear your thoughts on the impact of student-invited speakers whose views are offensive and hurtful to so many. I am writing to reiterate both the university’s position on speakers and my steadfast support of our LGBTQ+ community.

The university values every one of our LGBTQ+ students, faculty, staff and alumni. As you noted in your petition, Washington and Lee’s Statement of Commitment to Diversity expresses our dedication to creating and sustaining a community that embodies many experiences, cultures, points of view, interests, and identities and seeks to advance a positive learning and working environment for all through open and substantive dialogue.

W&L’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is manifest in our programming that explores, promotes, and celebrates the increasingly diverse backgrounds of our students, faculty and staff. We also provide resources to help all members of our community thrive, including staffing, funding, and dedicated space for the Office of Inclusion and Engagement, the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, and the University Counseling Center. We aspire to support every member of our community to the best of our ability and always welcome conversations about how we might improve.

Our commitment to diversity, along with our commitment to freedom of expression, is also the reason we permit all recognized student organizations to invite speakers of their choosing to campus. Washington and Lee does not approve or reject events based on content, and the university does not endorse the views of any invited speaker.

Sometimes the views of invited speakers are objectionable to members of our community. But as an academic institution, our purpose is to help our students learn to examine, evaluate, and express points of view, so that they may become lifelong learners, responsible leaders, and engaged citizens. Toward this end, we provide a setting in which all ideas can be freely exchanged, discussed, and debated.

Freedom of expression also extends to voicing opposition to views with which one disagrees, whether that be through signing petitions, boycotting events, developing alternative programming, or protesting in ways that do not jeopardize the safety of the community, damage property, or prohibit speakers from delivering remarks and engaging with those who choose to attend.

The W&L community includes students, faculty, staff, and alumni -- more than 30,000 individuals who hold a wide range of views. A large and diverse community such as ours will disagree on many issues, including how the university should handle divisive speakers. But I hope we all recognize the value of the educational enterprise in which we are collectively invested -- one that encourages our students to be critical thinkers who can choose how to engage most productively with those with whom they disagree and prepares them to be thoughtful citizens in a global and diverse society.

The College Republicans’ planned event this week lays bare deep ideological divides. I hope our community will use this moment as an occasion to reflect upon what it means to freely exchange, discuss, and debate ideas, and upon the kinds of events and speakers that are most conducive to stimulating thoughtful, intellectual conversations. Thank you for advancing the dialogue on these critical issues and your many other contributions to Washington and Lee.