A Virginia university will remove Confederate flags from its chapel following protests from black students several months ago.
Washington and Lee University President Kenneth Ruscio said Tuesday he regrets the school's history of owning slaves and said the flags will no longer be displayed in their current location.
In a letter to the university community, Ruscio wrote that the flags near the statue of Lee in the chapel will be removed and the school will receive, on loan from the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, original flags to display in the chapel’s museum.
"The purpose of historic flags in a university setting is to educate," he wrote. "In this way, those who wish to view these artifacts may do so, and the stories behind them can be properly told."
The decision to remove what many view as an offensive symbol is not as clear cut as it might sound. The school is named for Confederate Commander Gen. Robert E. Lee, who served as its president following the Civil War. His crypt is under the chapel, and the flags are replicas of historical battle flags.
The protesting students see the changes as a step in the right direction.
Hernandez Stroud, who was president of the university's Black Law Students Association last school year, told Fusion he "commends the university for taking seriously the concerns of all students."
He said the administration took "great care" in engaging students and acknowledged that "no solution would appease everyone."
The decision is certainly not universally supported.
Opponents of the changes rightly point out that the protesting students knowingly chose to attend a university with a controversial history. The students acknowledge that fact, but say most reputable universities have some history of discrimination and it's how a school addresses that history that matters.
Stroud said "the flags, as they were, were left open to any sort of interpretation," which created a "lot of room for ill-feelings and discomfort and confusion."
Placing the flags in the museum, he said, "is more consistent with shedding light on Lee's past or the flags' history. To me that's more educational."
Brandon Hicks, a national spokesman for the National Black Law Students Association and a third-year law student at Washington Lee, added that current students have an obligation to "create more inclusive environments."
Ruscio, for his part, is open to having a discussion about the university's history.
“I cannot imagine another institution more challenged by the complexity of history while at the same time more capable of illuminating not just our own history but the wider scope of our nation's,” he wrote Tuesday. “Our own arc of history traces that of our nation, from the founding period through the painful divide of the Civil War and up to the present time. We cannot and should not avoid these issues. Indeed, we ought to lead in addressing them.”
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.