The Columns

For Students

A Message Regarding the Violence in Charlottesville

— by Washington and Lee University on August 14th, 2017

To: The W&L Community
From: President Will Dudley

I do not normally issue statements to reaffirm the values that are self-evident in the work we all do together every day at Washington and Lee. But there is nothing normal about the racist violence perpetrated in Charlottesville this past weekend. White supremacist and neo-Nazi groups descended on the city, conducted a torch-lit march on the Grounds of the University of Virginia on Friday night, and clashed with anti-racist counter protestors on the downtown streets on Saturday, causing numerous injuries and one death. Our hearts go out to the families of the woman who was killed, of those who were injured, and of the two Virginia State Police officers who died in the helicopter crash in Albemarle County.

I was born in Charlottesville; both of my parents worked at U.Va., and they continue to live there today. I could not be more personally appalled at the hateful displays of white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideology in the city that means so much to me. This abhorrent bigotry has no place in America. It stands in direct opposition to the values upon which our country was built and that we hold dear at Washington and Lee.

On Sunday, I wrote to U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan to express solidarity and support for the University of Virginia community and the residents of Charlottesville. We admire and share their commitment to condemning racism, hatred and violence, while also defending the rights to freedom of speech and peaceable assembly.

W&L and Lexington have a complex history with regard to the Confederate symbols and figures around which these hateful groups are rallying. Lee, our former president and one of our namesakes, has become a particularly polarizing figure. This gives us a special obligation to be absolutely clear about what we stand for as an institution. We value the essential contributions of both George Washington and Robert E. Lee to making the university what it is today. An explanation of the history of our name is available on our website. We also remain steadfastly and actively committed to creating an increasingly diverse and inclusive community, built on the common values of civility, integrity and respect. These values – W&L’s institutional values – are antithetical to the vile ideologies that we saw on full display in Charlottesville this past weekend, and they call us to speak out in opposition when confronted with such detestable behavior.

Our academic year will begin in a few short weeks with faculty-led, first-year student discussions of “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality,” by Harvard political theorist Danielle Allen, who will give our Convocation address on Sept. 6. These will be the first of many opportunities for discussion of the past weekend’s events, as well as steps we can take to strengthen our own community. I look forward to the work ahead.

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