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Washington and Lee University will keep its name, Lee Chapel will not

Board of Trustees voted 22-6 to continue with current name

After a long debate in a long 11-month review, Washington and Lee University is keeping its name.
After a long debate in a long 11-month review, Washington and Lee University is keeping its name.

LEXINGTON, Va. – Washington and Lee University will indeed remain Washington and Lee University.

On Friday, the university’s Board of Trustees voted 22-6 in favor of maintaining the name. The vote comes after an 11-month review of the university’s name, symbols and other issues related to its history and campus environment.

The board cited two clear findings from its review:

  1. There is broad support for advancing the university’s commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  2. At the same time, there is no consensus regarding a name change.

While keeping the name, “the board also decided to expand diversity and inclusion initiatives and make changes to campus buildings, practices, and governance,” according to the Board of Trustees.

In making one such change, Lee Chapel, named after Robert E. Lee, will now be known as University Chapel, reverting the building to its original 19th-century name of “College Chapel.”

Along with that change, the board will oversee and approve interior changes to restore the chapel’s unadorned design and physically separate the auditorium from the Lee family crypt and Lee memorial sculpture.

The university is named for our nation’s first president, George Washington, whose gift of James River Canal stock to Liberty Hall Academy in 1796 ensured the school’s survival, and Robert E. Lee, whose leadership as president of Washington College from 1865 until his death in 1870 restored the institution after the Civil War.

“We are confident that W&L will emerge stronger as a result of our active engagement on these issues, the work we have done together, and the actions and commitments we are taking,” said the board in its statement. “We look forward to continuing to engage our community on these critical issues as we execute on our Strategic Plan in support of our mission.”

Amidst these contributions, the board acknowledged that the association with its namesakes can be painful to those who continue to experience racism.

Last month, we learned that this announcement was coming sometime in June.

The university has changed its name several times in its nearly 300 years of existence.

Here’s a quick look at what it has been known as throughout the years:

  • 1749 - Augusta Academy
  • 1776 - Liberty Hall Academy
  • 1796 - Washington Academy
  • 1813 - Washington College
  • 1870 - Washington and Lee University

As part of the changes, the university will also form a Board committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

The university also plans to raise $225 million for strategic plan priorities, including scholarships, curriculum and student support.


About the Author:

Jeff Williamson arrived at WSLS 10 in March 2016.