Lee-Jackson Day Response
Jacob Flood ('21)-
To begin the second semester of my college career, I was forced to read from the works of the Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt for a course on global politics. It was the philosophies of this man and others that were used to convince the German people that it was in their interest to murder 6 million innocent people. While any reasonable person living in 2018 would disagree with the horrifying and ridiculous ideas of a Nazi, my professor still considered his ideas worth reading. Exposure to the viewpoints of Nazis is not an affirmation of those beliefs, but simply an opportunity to learn more about why certain people believe what they believe. My professor has confidence in my classmates’ and my ability to handle reading controversial material. He knows that we are all adults who can think for ourselves and do not need anyone to protect us from any ideas, even if those advocate for hatred, tyranny, and murder. Washington and Lee has a strong history of encouraging civil discussion in the classroom and my professor illustrated that by his assignment choices.
Meanwhile, in the Washington and Lee Office of Diversity and Inclusion, a very different position is held. On January 10th of this year, in preparation for Lee-Jackson Day on the 12th, all of the students of Washington and Lee received an email from “The University Committee on Inclusiveness and Campus Climate.” The email briefly discusses the Lee-Jackson commemorative events happening in Lexington, before making it explicitly clear that the University has no connections with these events. Next, the email warns where symbols and flags will most likely be found in town (North Jefferson Street). It concludes by saying that “[t]he Office of Diversity and Inclusion is working with student groups to provide alternate programming on Lee-Jackson Day.”
I completely understand the reason why someone would not want to fly the Confederate flag or use certain symbols. It would be ridiculous and completely against the idea of individual freedom to force someone to support something they do not. However, the idea that the University Committee on Inclusiveness and Campus Climate feels that is necessary to warn us where to go in Lexington to avoid seeing something we do not like is concerning. We are all adults and the university administration should treat us as such. They should not be attempting to coddle us by protecting us from opposing viewpoints, something our faculty don’t in fact do. Furthermore, our Office of Diversity and Inclusion is so concerned with keeping us occupied during the Lee-Jackson Day festivities that they actually worked on providing “alternate programming”. Why is this necessary? As students of Washington and Lee, we should be confident in our opinions and arguments for what we believe in. Our liberal arts style education gives us the tools to defend what we feel strongly about. Why is “alternate programming” needed? The proponents of Lee-Jackson Day should be able to have their day without others trying to take it over with their own agendas.
Personally, I was not involved in any of the Lee-Jackson Day events, and honestly, I, like many others, probably won’t find it necessary to carry a Confederate flag around with me. But that fact does not mean that I should instead spend my Lee-Jackson Days burning flags. Instead, let free speech work and leave the Lee-Jackson Day supporters alone. If one is confident in their claims, then they should be confident that history will validate them. For that reason, I say to the administration: Let’s let appropriately-timed civil discourse lead the way and not feel the need to constantly coddle and protect students. If our professors don’t think it is necessary, why should our administration think so?