It should be no surprise that not everyone approves of the decision made at Washington & Lee University to deal with concerns expressed by a group of students, who call themselves The Committee, over the school’s Confederate past. A good deal of this first wave of outrage comes from the usual suspects, who believe that they alone hold a monopoly on what it means to properly commemorate Robert E. Lee and the Confederate past.
Charges of political correctness and an administration that caved into the demands of a select few abound. Not surprisingly, the decision to remove reproduction flags from the chapel has caused the most outrage among those who are best described as reproduction Confederate heritage advocates. No mention of the fact that the school is going to display the original Confederate flags that once hung in the chapel in the museum section of the building below. Does this really reflect caving into demands? One Virginia blogger worries about a slippery slope: Will the Recumbent Statue of Lee be next?
In fact, if anyone bothered to compare President Kenneth Ruscio’s statement with the list of demands made by The Committee you will see that the students will not be getting everything they requested.
The decision regarding the flags is a case in point.
3. We demand that the University immediately remove all confederate flags from its property and premises, including those flags located within Lee Chapel.
As already noted above, this is clearly not going to happen. And what about the demand that “neo-Confederate” groups be barred from using Lee Chapel?
2. We demand that the University stop allowing neo-confederates to march on campus with confederate flags on Lee-Jackson Day and to stop allowing these groups to hold programs in Lee Chapel.
From the president’s statement.
4. Groups not affiliated with the University may continue to use Lee Chapel for events so long as they do so in accordance with our established policies and guidelines. This includes such non-University events as the annual lecture sponsored by an outside group as part of the statewide Lee-Jackson Day observance in Lexington.
Finally, there is the call for an “official apology for the school’s participation in chattell slavery and a denunciation of Robert E. Lee’s participation in slavery.”
Here is the president’s response.
I personally take pride in his significant accomplishments here and will not apologize for the crucial role he played in shaping this institution… Lee was an imperfect individual living in imperfect times. Lee deserves, and his record can withstand, an honest appraisal by those who understand the complexities of history. His considerable contributions to this institution are part of that record.
Taken together this hardly reflects what many are describing as a politically correct response. In fact, I am very curious to see whether the students in question accept this position as satisfactory.
None of their demands were accepted outright and that is as it should be. While these students had every right to voice their concerns, they are still members of a much larger community with a wide range of opinion. These are complex issues and I believe the school did an admirable job of trying to move the school forward.