Character matters

Washington and Lee and Virginia Mili- tary Institute students come together to discuss character

Photo courtesy of

Alex Kinzer

What’s one topic that might be familiar to both Washington and Lee and Virginia Military Institute students? Character.

On Sept. 21, around 25 W&L and VMI students gathered in Hillel House to discuss just this.

The discussion was the first meeting of the 2015-2016 W&L-VMI monthly Dessert and Discussion Series, sponsored by the Mellon Foundation.

Every month, selected honors students from both schools can sign up to participate in that month’s discussion. Participating students read either a book or an article from The Atlantic magazine and gather in a student led forum to discuss.

This month, the group focused on David Brooks’ book The Road to Character in anticipation of Brooks’ upcoming Lee Chapel talk, “The Future of Higher Education in America.”

The Road to Character- highlights eight great historical figures and analyzes their understanding of both morality and character. The Dessert and Discussion group focused particularly on the chapter dedicated to VMI graduate General George Marshall, best known as the author of the Marshall Plan.

Discussion ranged from philosophical definitions of morality to the legacy of Marshall at VMI.

“I really enjoyed the discussion tonight,” Sarah Rachal, ‘16, said. “I thought that the W&L students I spoke with and the cadets from VMI all brought in some interesting viewpoints and perspectives. We actually ended up agreeing on a lot of the ideas that were presented in the book, or disagreeing with them, but I thought it was a great way to start off the year.”

The 2015-2016 academic year marks the third time that the Mellon Foundation has sponsored the Dessert and Discussion Series. This series is part of a larger Mellon Foundation Civilian-Military Educational Cooperation project.

According to the Mellon Foundation website, the project’s goal is “that members of each group should better understand each other, reducing the ‘civilian-military gap’ that could be a problem for U.S. democracy and society.”

Dean of the College Marcia France said that she has seen a change in the relationship between W&L and VMI students because of these discussion groups.

“The students from both institutions have been really positive about the program,” France said. “There have been gatherings between groups of students, both formal and informal.”

Mohini Tangri, ‘19, attended the discussion groups for the first time and found it very productive and inspiring.

“I’ve always felt that there is something more important out there,” Tangri said. “I thought that by coming here, and speaking especially to the VMI students, I could learn more about what they believe about duty and honor, and I thought that it would be very eye-opening in terms of my pursuit of truth.”

Rachal, on the other hand, has been attending these discussion groups since her sophomore year.

“I just thought it would be a good way to be involved in an intellectual discussion outside of my classes, and to interact with people that I probably wouldn’t get to meet otherwise,” she said.

David Brooks’ lecture will take place at 5 p.m. in Lee Chapel on Oct. 1.