Letter to the Editor

Cole Schott '17

I delivered this letter to President Ruscio’s office last Friday, March 13th. As of Wednesday, March 18th I have yet to receive any response from the President. As part of an institution that prides itself on its sense of community, I encourage you to consider the message it sends when our President Ruscio refuses to acknowledge students’ concerns. Below reads the original text of the letter.

March 12th, 2015

President Ruscio,

In light of recent events, and as a brother in the Virginia Beta chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, it’s with great sadness that I feel I must write this letter. I write you not to appeal your decision – as a college sophomore, I will not presume to understand the forces at work behind it. I do not expect nor intend for you to retract, revise, or otherwise change what has already been decided. Rather, I write to express frustration at action that I believe is antithetical to those values we hold dear at Washington and Lee.

Choosing Washington and Lee was an easy decision for me as a high school senior. Following in my father’s footsteps had been my intention for quite some time. But beyond that, Washington and Lee offered a tradition of honor, student self-governance, and community that I knew I could not find anywhere else. I chose Washington and Lee because I believed that I would be taken at my word. Because I believed that my integrity and the integrity of those around me would finally be inseparable from our identities. That I would be part of a community that judged not by a standard of intelligence, but a standard of honor. Sadly, I find this no longer to be true.

I do not believe I can take you at your word, President Ruscio. Beyond my feeling that your letter to the Washington and Lee community concerning my fraternity’s suspension was hyperbolic in tone and description, I feel it was dishonest. I believe that you expressed what you felt some wanted to hear, not what you truly believe.

I do not believe your action was motivated by your “moral authority to protect every student.” I believe you are very much aware that this incident of “hazing” is far from the most harmful or dangerous act that has occurred on this campus over the past six weeks. You were once a student at Washington and Lee, and I believe that you are intimately familiar with the fraternity system. I believe you are painfully aware that each and every fraternity on this campus, if held to the standard of Virginia Law, is guilty of hazing. If you were motivated out of a “moral authority” then I implore you to remove the intentional blinders to the tradition of hazing which exists at this institution. If you look, you will find it throughout the fraternity system. But I believe you already know this. I believe you are a very smart man. And I know that this decision was not made for the reasons you so claim. I came to Washington and Lee not to attend the typical liberal arts college, drowned in political correctness and enslaved to the pressures of public relations. I came to learn from the administration, the faculty, and my peers a lesson that is not taught elsewhere – that failure with honor is far better than success without it.

President Ruscio, you have succeeded. You have appeased those who pressed you to take swift and firm action. But you have done it without honor. You have either lied to the student body, or made yourself so blissfully unaware of the fraternity culture at this school that you have lied to yourself. If your conscience moves you as you claim it does, then I would ask that you no longer pretend to be ignorant of the obvious. If you truly want the structure of Greek life to change, then be the catalyst to that change. But if you have punished one fraternity in the hope of quelling external criticism and protecting a Washington and Lee tradition, then that would be the statement I would have hoped to see from the leader of this community enshrined in honor. That was not the statement I read yesterday.

Signed, Cole Schott, Class of 2017