A group of black students at Washington and Lee University is urging administrators to atone for its Confederate heritage and what they call the “dishonorable conduct” of namesake Robert E. Lee. Washington and Lee University is located in Lexington, Va., and the black students make up about 3.5 percent of the total student population.
Third-year law student Dominik Taylor, a descendent of slaves on his father’s side, said he felt betrayed by admissions representatives who touted the school’s diversity.
“They assured me it was a welcoming environment where everyone sticks together as a community,” Taylor said. “Then I came here and felt ostracized and alienated.”
Taylor is among a group of students who have urged the board of trustees to make the university more welcoming for minority students. Known collectively as the Committee, the students wrote a letter to the trustees with a list of “demands,” promising acts of civil disobedience if they see no action before Sept. 1.
The students want Confederate flags removed from the chapel. They also want administrators to ban Confederate reenactors and sympathizers from campus on the Lee-Jackson holiday in Virginia, and they ask that the university’s undergraduate school cancel classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The Washington and Lee law school began observing the holiday in 2013, but the undergraduate students still attend classes. Although Lee-Jackson Day, the Friday before the King holiday, is not a formal holiday on campus, the school does honor Lee annually around his birthday on Founder’s Day.
In response to the student’s request, university President Kenneth Ruscio wrote an open letter to students stating that he had asked a “special task force” to study the history of African-Americans at the school.
“While we are aware of some of that history, I believe we should have a thorough, candid examination,” Ruscio wrote.
Many feel that the students should have known before hand that the university’s history was shrouded in racism, before applying to attend.