Washington and Lee was where they applied, were accepted and attended law school, but they don’t want a picture of either historic figure to appear on their diplomas.
Some students, alumni and staff at the Washington & Lee University School of Law have started a petition to allow graduates the option of omitting pictures of the university’s “controversial” namesakes from their diplomas.
The university, which began life as Augusta Academy in 1749, received a huge endowment from George Washington and was headed by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee after the Civil War.
The men’s legacies as slaveowners, however, and Lee’s role in the Civil War, has made them increasingly controversial figures, particularly in the days of bitter leftist discontent since Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
The petition says: “Given 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, 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.”
So far there has been no request to rename the University, but organizers note that Washington & Lee’s diploma design has changed once already to accommodate more sensitive students, transitioning sheepskin diplomas to paper.
In 2014, Confederate flags were removed from the university’s Lee Chapel – where the general is buried – after protests by students.
In response to the petition, a group called ‘The Generals Redoubt’ has spoken out against the organizers request.
“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,” they said in a statement.
Several hundred people have signed the petition thus far.