Law students at Washington and Lee University are circulating a petition asking for the option to have portraits of the school's namesakes — George Washington and Robert E. Lee — removed from diplomas, so alumni can be "proud to prominently display" their sheepskin without the images that "some may find controversial or offensive."
What are the details?
The petition is not asking for a mandatory removal of the portraits, but requests that students be allowed to opt out. It argues, "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."
Hundreds of past and future graduates have signed the petition endorsed by several student groups and addressed to the school's administration and president. Some faculty members have also signed on.
While the petition does not state it outright, the Daily Mail notes that George Washington and Robert E. Lee's "legacies as slaveholders, and Lee's role as general in the Confederacy during the Civil War, has made them increasingly controversial figures in recent years."
A campus group called The Generals Redoubt issued a statement slamming the petition, calling it "a symptom of strong undercurrents within the University to dismantle the traditions, values and history of Washington and Lee." The Generals Redoubt also said "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."
Law.com reported that Washington and Lee "has seen plenty of activism surrounding the campus' embrace of its namesakes," pointing out that the university's law students have been successful in pushing several changes in recent years such as requiring the removal of the Confederate flag on campus and requiring the law school to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In 1796, George Washington granted the school — then known as Liberty Hall — an endowment that saved it from insolvency and was "so generous that it still pays for a portion of every student's education to this day," The Daily Mail reported.
General Robert E. Lee, a former president of the institution, is buried under the university's Lee Chapel.