George Washington University to drop ‘Colonials’ name

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George Washington University will withdraw its “Colonials” moniker, a name intended to honor its namesake but that has long been criticized as a term that glorifies colonialism, officials announced Wednesday.

In a statement, university officials said the use of the name has divided the community and can “no longer serve its purpose as a name that unifies.” Officials said they will continue to use the moniker until a new name is introduced, a change expected to come by the 2023-24 school year.

The announcement comes almost two years after the university established committees to consider requests to shed the moniker and rename the school’s student center. The building, formerly called the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center — named after a university president who advocated for segregation — was renamed last year.

The Colonials name, introduced in 1926, has been an ubiquitous part of the GWU experience. The sports teams are the Colonials. Students schedule medical appointments at the Colonial Health Center and exchange Colonial Cash for meals and laundry services.

Mark S. Wrighton, who became interim president in January, commended the university’s “principled” approach to this decision.

“I was impressed by the principled and collaborative approach of the special committee, and it was clear this process was driven by research and robust engagement with the community,” Wrighton said in a statement. “While some may disagree with the outcome, this process has determined that changing the moniker is the right decision for our university.”

The special committee that recommended the name change included GWU faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the athletics department, officials said. Experts on the university’s history were also involved.

Tanya Vogel, director of athletics, acknowledged that some people will be disappointed in the decision. “The moniker is one way in which our student-athletes, athletic staff and fans build community,” Vogel said.

But, she added, “we see this as a tremendous opportunity to come together, share our experiences and consider what is important to our GW community as we launch the new moniker development process.”

The special committee conducted research, town hall events and a university-wide survey to understand the name issue. Alumni, committee members found, were somewhat more in favor of keeping the term. Current students leaned toward discontinuing its use.

“For supporters, the term refers to those who lived in the colonies, especially those who fought for independence against England and, with bravery, courage, and against all odds, secured democracy for the United States,” according to a report released by the special committee. “For opponents, ‘Colonials’ means colonizers (both here and abroad) and refers to those who stole land from indigenous groups, plundered their resources, murdered and exiled Native peoples, and introduced slavery into the colonies.”

‘Extremely offensive’: GW students launch petition to change Colonials nickname.

The committee determined that the name arose without “thoughtful university-wide consideration,” but “casually and haphazardly” in the early 20th century. Before Colonials, GWU’s football team went by names including “Hatchetites,” “Hatchetmen,” “Axemen” and, after the arrival of coach Henry Crum in 1924, the “Crummen,” according to the report.

The report noted that some members of the community may have used “colonial” interchangeably with “revolutionary,” but the terms had different meanings for the university’s namesake.

Historians said Washington “firmly rejected” the term. It did not become popular until the Colonial Revival period of the late 19th and 20th centuries, the report said.

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