Two alumni groups seem to be towing the line between the Washington and Lee values, tradition and non incautus futuri (or the motto, meaning “not unmindful of the future”).
On May 3, 2019, alum and Tom Rideout, ‘63, announced the creation of a new group named the Generals Redoubt through emails to the student body. The organization is “dedicated to the preservation of the history, values, and traditions of Washington and Lee University,” according to its website.
“We are concerned with a trend that may be developing whereby the [uniqueness] of Washington and Lee, which is quality in academics liberal arts education and these values and traditions that we hold dear, may disappear,” said Generals Redoubt Vice President Neely Young. “If they do, Washington and Lee will no longer be the same school.”
The group is made up of alumni from classes between 1960 and 2019 and emphasizes former university president and Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s legacy.
They’re asking for Lee Chapel to keep the doors to the recumbent statue of Lee open at all times, the Charles Willson Peale portrait of George Washington in uniform returned and Lee’s values instilled in current students, which Young says include “honor, duty and civility.”
“What we’re upset and concerned about is that the historical tradition of Robert E. Lee as the founder [is being hidden],” Rideout, the Generals Redoubt president, said. “One could easily make the argument that [Lee] saved Washington College… and in effect created the foundation for what exists today, just in terms of the school itself.”
But some students are concerned by both the group’s goals and outreach to students. Mourad Berrached, ‘20, said the Generals Redoubt demands were “antithetical” to the university’s current values.
“The advocacy [should be] in the true best interest of the students and aligns with the interests of the students,” Berrached said. “It was just very frustrating to see alumni who clearly deeply care about W&L and the community and care for its best interests but are so disconnected from the best interests and the values of the community – specifically those on campus.”
Berrached said he sees the university’s most important values as openness, freedom and inclusivity. He said he sees this in his creative writing class, which fall under the category of courses the Generals Redoubt finds to be “dubious.”
“We just aren’t clear on what the focus of the university is,” Young said. “The real question we have that we would like the school to examine is: What does a quality liberal arts curriculum look like? What classes are essential for a student’s education? To help them be well educated, to be good students, and what things are not essential?”
Generals Redoubt advocates for ideological and political diversity, and its members say they’re concerned about classes that focus on “identity politics.”
“I don’t necessarily see the need [for classes] that are titled gender and politics,” Young said. “We want to bring all people into this common value system and not overly emphasize things that seem to separate and divide us. Rather, [we should] try to find things that unite us.”
Alum Taylor Woods, ‘08, was so bothered by Generals Redoubt that he revived the Washington and Lee Advocate Coalition in response. The progressive alumni group aims to show administration, students, alumni and faculty that not every alumni associated themselves with the Redoubt’s beliefs.
“Alumni and students were disturbed when Generals Redoubt demands and grievances [seemed to interfere] with academic freedom and W&L’s ability to select classes and professor’s ability to teach material relevant to their students and to their research interests,” Woods said. “If the administrators are just hearing from that group alumni and aren’t hearing from the large amount of alumni who think the school does need to change and professors should teach what they want, that’d be a shame.”
The coalition first reached out to students by contacting various organizations and students on campus. They then hosted two listening sessions with students on campus in September about campus climate.
The Generals Redoubt first reached out to students through an email list — one that they believed would contain people who supported their initiative. This included alumni they anticipated support from and current students. The alumni had often previously reached out to the founding members of the organization, showing encouragement.
Some students like Berrached preferred WLAC’s method of outreach through campus organizations
“WLAC was a model of the right way to handle situations,” Berrached said. “They knew young alumni who knew current students. The whole listening session was advertised by students.”
Both the WLAC and the Generals Redoubt have kept in touch with administration throughout their efforts to reach students. The administration has disaffiliated themselves with alumni groups, as they have no official University standing or status.
They have also formally presented the option of removing oneself from the email list.
Correction: A previous version of this story listed an inaccurate name of the Washington portrait. The story has since been updated.