W&L Name Change: Now "Booker T. Washington and Bruce Lee University"
by Ben Gee '18
Editor's Note: Booker T. Washington, Bruce Lee, and Harper Lee are all incredibly accomplished individuals, each worthy of praise and honor. Their parallel names are the reason they were selected for the piece.
For over a hundred and forty years, Washington and Lee University has carried two namesakes, George Washington and Robert E Lee. But this era has now come to an end, as the Board of Trustees approved a new name for the school last Saturday, buckling under the combined pressure of various faculty and student advocacy groups.
An anonymous Professor of History heralded the change, suggesting that the removal of Lee and Washington would carry overwhelmingly positive effects for the school’s status of diversity and inclusion: “Robert E Lee and George Washington both represent W&L’s slaveholding past. Their contributions to the school are irrelevant considering the harm they inflicted and continue to inflict on minorities today. Their names, statues, and faces continue to violently oppress vulnerable members of our campus community.”
The Board of Trustees was originally presented with a plan to name the school after two distinguished, sufficiently intersectional W&L graduates, but none of the suggested candidates had a last name of Washington or Lee. Realizing that to completely change the name away from Washington and Lee would be massive branding and merchandising headache, the Board asked for non-affiliated persons of distinction who shared Washington and Lee’s names. Booker T Washington was approved almost immediately, to standing applause, but there was some debate over the Lee replacement; the Woman’s Gender and Sexuality department lobbied hard for Harper Lee, but too many people on the board thought Bruce Lee was the embodiment of W&L Greek life to endorse the WGSS proposal, prompting accusations of sexism.
Neither Booker T Washington or Bruce Lee were ever very involved with the university, but proponents of this change argued that their life achievements warrant them honorary placement as Washington and Lee’s new namesakes. Remarked one student who identified as a Journalism major, “Well, Booker T Washington and Bruce Lee didn’t go here or save the school from financial ruin or initiate a nationally unique honor system or anything like that. But Booker T Washington was an educator in the South, and Bruce Lee’s movies are, like, the most lit thing to come out of the 1970’s, so they totally belong in our school’s name.”
Another student voiced their deeply nuanced view on the situation at hand: “Robert E Lee and George Washington were racist pigs. Any truly woke school would have long ago abandoned a school titled after two white, heterosexual, cisgender, WASP southern aristocrats.”