To Lee or not to Lee

A “Keep the Name the Same” sign in a front yard taken by junior Bess Golkin. Several members of the community have placed the sign in their own yards in response to the name change decision.

A “Keep the Name the Same” sign in a front yard taken by junior Bess Golkin. Several members of the community have placed the sign in their own yards in response to the name change decision.

Washington-Loving and Washington Liberty. These are the two names the renaming committee for Washington-Lee High School has decided on. They have presented  these two names to the School Board as their top suggestions and the new official name of the school will be discussed on December 20.

This past fall, the Arlington Public Schools (APS) department of School and Community Relations partnered with Principal Dr. Gregg Robertson to create the committee that carried  out the name change process for the school, an action that was decided upon this past summer. This committee includes four student representatives, one from each grade. These representatives were chosen from a survey sent out to students this summer, asking for a name and grade. They held several meetings in the fall along with encouraging the community to provide feedback through communication with their representatives and a forum posted on the school website.

“The general student opinion on the name change based on my discussion with classmates [is that] there are a lot of people who do not want to change the name [and want] to keep it completely Washington-Lee. There are a lot of people who do [want to change it] so when it comes to general opinion I would have to say its 50/50,” junior class representative Chloe Slater said. “The majority of the people who want to keep the name don’t understand the reasoning behind why we want to change the name, and when I would explain it they would be like ‘oh I agree. I think people just need to get educated on why we want to change it.”

In regards to what that reason is exactly, it comes from more apparent and outward white supremacist movements in the country, like the “Unite the Right” rally, also known as the Charlottesville rally, that occurred last year. Historical figures such as Robert E. Lee have become idols for these movements, sparking conversation across the country about the statues, schools and other symbols commending those who fought for the confederacy. The School Board feels that the current name of the school shows a backward message that should not be upheld today. Some students, however, refute that as a reason to change.

“Just because Robert E. Lee owned slaves [and fought for the confederacy]… doesn’t mean that the people that go here, and the school, stand for slavery,” junior Lucy Pappa said.

The school’s alumni shared similar sentiments to the students’ opinions.

“History cannot be changed. Whether we agree or disagree with it, it is what it is. As the first African American to graduate from W-L [in 1961], to now change the name is to change my history, and I will not have anyone do that. While we look upon some things in horror and disgust, we must respect our history and not try to change it or repeat it,” Charles Augins, the first African American to graduate from the school, said.

Others simply think that the name change will create more problems, including the costs to change the name throughout the campus and changing uniforms for sports teams.

“This name change personally affects me as a cheerleader because it is now our job to completely change not only our cheers for sideline, but come up with new ways to spell out our name at competitions. With this change, we are going to have to spend more time on coming up with new cheers instead of focusing on competition season. We usually never spend too much time on cheers for sideline because competition is such a vital part of the fall team,” varsity cheerleader captain junior Maddie Koch said. “Taking time away from competition means less opportunities for our team to advance through to competitions like regionals and states.”

The many voices and perspectives surrounding the name change of Washington-Lee are diverse and passionate, and are bound to come to a head on December 20 when the name change is discussed. Slater is confident in the future of the new name.

“A lot of people are scared of the word change and the impacts it has, but when discussing this topic, people should think more of this as a name update,” Slater said. “We are not trying to forget the past, merely show what we have become today because of it.”



An earlier version of this article misreported that the School Board plans to make a decision on the name on December 20. The board will discuss the name change, but has not set a final date for a decision.