The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

A conservative alumni group is pushing for more student outreach. Are progressive groups doing the same?

The Generals Redoubt raised $1.95 million in 2022 to fund high-profile campus events and property purchases. Liberal alumni groups have adopted a quieter approach
The+Generals+Redoubt+purchased+the+historic+Fancy+Hill+mansion+in+Lexington+for+%241+million+in+2023.
Generals Redoubt
The Generals Redoubt purchased the historic Fancy Hill mansion in Lexington for $1 million in 2023.

Editor’s note: This article was updated May 15 to clarify how Austin Molitor gained control of the @wluforever Instagram account.

The Generals Redoubt, a conservative alumni group, has adopted more active student outreach since Washington and Lee University decided to keep its name, students and leaders of the organization said.

Public statements and the Generals Redoubt website also show how the conservative alumni group has prioritized connecting with students since its founding in 2018. The group distributes free merchandise through a student-run Instagram account, @wluforever. The organization and alumni associated with the group have also helped bring conservative speakers to campus and even sponsored student concerts.

In comparison, one liberal alumni group, Not Unmindful, which emerged in 2020 after protests against George Floyd’s killing by a police officer, is not actively trying to recruit students to the cause, said Betsy Green, the group’s founder.

“We don’t really do any particular outreach,” Green said. “We rather that people find us. We prefer our members to be like-minded and not here to troll us.”

Green described the group’s formation as a grassroots effort that took off after she sent a letter to the Board of Trustees condemning Lee’s inclusion in the university’s name in 2020.

Both the Redoubt and Not Unmindful took an active role amid discussions focused on whether or not to change the university’s name in the 2020-21 academic year. In 2021, the Board of Trustees released a decision to retain Robert E. Lee’s name.

That defeat sparked burnout for progressive alumni and activists on campus, said Chase Isbell, ’21, in an interview in February. Not Unmindful still has an active 3,000-member Facebook group. Now, the group is focused on electing trustees who could revise the decision to retain Lee’s name, Green said. The Board of Trustees, Green noted, is the only body that can change the school’s name.

“It’s just a matter of time,” said Green about the possibility of a name change.

The Generals Redoubt, meanwhile, has skyrocketed in annual revenue since the 2021 decision. A report by ProPublica shows that the alumni group collected $470,000 in revenue in 2020. In 2022, the organization’s revenue shot to $1.95 million. 

Generals Redoubt’s revenue has increased by almost $1.8 million since 2019. (ProPublica)

The conservative group financed Charlie Kirk’s planned visit to campus for Mock Convention 2024, said Margaret Robertson, a member of the group.

The organization emerged in 2018 to protest a report by the school advocating for the university to distance itself from Lee, said Tom Rideout, the chair of the group’s board of directors.

The Redoubt’s website said its mission is “to advance Washington and Lee University’s unique history and traditions of honor, civility, and classical liberal arts education.”

Since the name decision, the Redoubt has pivoted its outreach to protest diversity initiatives and call for “viewpoint diversity.” The Redoubt primarily reaches out to students through coordinating with conservative groups to enable student activities, Rideout said,

Students are also helping promote the group’s mission. Austin Molitor, ’25, runs the account @wluforever and receives free Generals Redoubt merchandise to boot. To get the merchandise delivered to them, other students can direct message the account.

Molitor said that the free merchandise serves to bring the message of the General Redoubt across campus.

“We often get orders through word of mouth,” said Molitor. “When one person in a frat orders merchandise, often other brothers get it afterwards.”

Molitor said that before he started running the Instagram account, it was inactive for a year. He wanted merchandise from the page, so he had to order it through an alumni request form. The alum who delivered his order informed him there was an opportunity to run the Instagram account.

The Redoubt has other plans to energize students on Washington and Lee’s campus. The group purchased a historic mansion, Fancy Hill, for $1 million in May 2023. Rideout said that the Redoubt hopes to make the mansion a local base for student outreach.

After the property undergoes renovations, the Redoubt plans to have a professional staff headquartered there and to let student clubs meet there as an alternate venue.

“We realized we are basically a virtual organization,” Rideout said. “To have the maximum impact, we needed to be closer to campus.”

Rideout said that viewpoint diversity — the concept of having conservative and liberal perspectives amplified on college campuses — was being eliminated in higher education.

In a diversity statement updated in 2018, Washington and Lee’s website said that the university wants students, faculty, and staff with diverse points of views. Leaders for Mock Convention 2024, a GOP convention, also said their goal was to show students the range of perspectives in the Republican Party.

Henry Haden, ’25, the president of the College Republicans, said that the Redoubt is also advancing civil discourse on campus. Recently, he said they funded a diversity, equity, and inclusion debate involving the College Republicans and Democrats.

“I think it would take a lot for another alumni organization to kind of reach their level now,” Haden said.

Though Not Unmindful is not recruiting students in the same way, Green said students are welcome in the group. “They have the biggest stake in the future of the university,” she said.

Green said that Lee’s inclusion in the name is detrimental for the university’s future.

Green said that she formed Not Unmindful a week after George Floyd’s death in 2020. Rideout said that the Redoubt hopes to expand commemoration of Lee through expanding Founders’ Day celebrations on Lee’s birthday. The Board of Trustees eliminated Founders’ Day, instituted after Lee’s death, in 2021.

Last Founders’ Day, Robertson said the Redoubt held two events in Rockbridge County that involved students.

“The whole idea is to reach out to the students and reinforce with them the long-standing institutions that have been a part of Washington and Lee,” Robertson said.

The Redoubt isn’t the only conservative organization trying to sway Washington and Lee’s campus.

Jeff Southmayd, a former member of the Redoubt’s board, launched the nonprofit Southmayd Center for American Ideals. Southmayd, in an April op-ed for the Spectator, said the organization “promotes free speech, civil dialogue, and intellectual diversity throughout Washington and Lee University,” as well as advocating for Lee’s preservation.

The Southmayd Center was a key sponsor of Lex Fest, a spring concert hosted on May 3 by the Generals Activities Board.

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  • T

    Timothy C TruxellMay 17, 2024 at 12:57 pm

    There’s a big different in ’73, or ’91 in my case, and 2024.

    Reply
  • J

    Jim FernaldMay 14, 2024 at 6:15 pm

    Excellent story. Well written and balanced. I’m curious, is Betsy Green an alum? For the life of me, I have never understood why people who hate Lee come to the school in the first place!
    Jim Fernald ’73.

    Reply
    • A

      Alex Christensen, Class of 1998May 17, 2024 at 12:44 pm

      Betsy Green is an alum. I don’t know if she had a particular opinion about Lee before attending W&L. Have you ever considered that learning more about Lee as a W&L student, in or outside of class, could lead many to have a more negative opinion of him?

      Reply
    • B

      Betsy GreenMay 17, 2024 at 6:36 pm

      I’m class of ’97. And I’m proud to say that my worldview has grown and expanded since then

      Reply