Washington and Lee U. Students Demand Removal of Washington and Lee Photos from Diplomas

George Washington Painting
Spencer Platt/Getty

Students and faculty at Washington and Lee University in Lexington city, Virginia, are demanding that the school remove photos of George Washington and Robert E. Lee from their diplomas.

“We, the undersigned, call on the administration of Washington and Lee University and President William Dudley to provide students with the option of removing the portraits of namesakes Robert E. Lee and George Washington from their diplomas,” proclaim the law students in their petition.

Washington and Lee University diplomas display portraits of both George Washington and Robert E. Lee, given that the school has been named after them.

The petition insists that its signees will be satisfied if school administrators simply give students “the option to have a diploma without portraits,” rather than making the change “mandatory” for all diplomas.

“The goal of establishing this option is to create a diploma that alumni are proud to prominently display in their homes and places of work,” affirms the petition, noting that the school had made changes to its diplomas in the past, “such as the transition from sheepskin diplomas to paper diplomas.”

The students go on to cite “the aftermath of the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville and the heightened awareness of making Washington & Lee an inclusive and compassionate environment to all students” as their reasons for desiring such changes.

“We believe this request provides alumni the ability to honor their alma mater without the presence of the portraits that some may find controversial or offensive,” the petition adds.

More than 230 people have signed the petition addressed to university president William Dudley and the school’s administration.

Not everyone, however, agrees with the proposed changes.

The organization The Generals Redoubt — which is “dedicated to the preservation of the history, values, and traditions of Washington and Lee University” — reacted to the petition last week by releasing a statement, announcing that they are “very concerned,” and calling on school administrators to “quickly and summarily” reject the petition.

“The General Redoubt (TGR) strongly disagrees with this petition which seeks to provide an option to remove the likeness of our namesakes George Washington and Robert E. Lee from the law school diploma,” said the organization in its statement.

“Many in our alumni community who have supported the law school with generous financial contributions and jobs for graduates of the law school are very disturbed by this petition,” adds The Generals Redoubt. “The petition is a symptom of strong undercurrents within the University to dismantle the traditions, values and history of Washington and Lee.”

The organization added that the school removing the portraits of George Washington and Robert E. Lee from its diplomas would be “a severe affront to the generous and loyal alumni who respect the character and values of our namesakes.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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