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George Washington University scraps ‘Colonials’ moniker after student pressure

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George Washington University (GWU) has announced plans to retire its “Colonials” moniker by the 2023-24 academic school year following years of pressure from its student body. 

In a news release on Wednesday, the school said its Board of Trustees has opted to replace the “Colonials” moniker with a new one, based on a special committee’s recommendation on the matter. 

The board established a “Task Force on Naming” in November 2019 amid growing concerns from the school’s community members about the nearly 100-year-old school moniker.

Former GWU President Thomas LeBlanc convened a “Special Committee on the Colonials Moniker” in July 2020 after the task force developed a framework to address name change requests, charging the new committee with sending a recommendation to the school’s Board of Trustees to determine whether the moniker should be changed. 

The committee’s report, published in March 2021, detailed various reasons for the school to change the name, citing that George Washington, the school’s namesake, rejected the “colonial” term and arguing that the moniker glorifies colonizers who stole land and resources from indigenous groups and also introduced slavery in the colonies. 

“The board recognizes the significance of changing the university’s moniker, and we made this decision only after a thoughtful and deliberate process that followed the renaming framework and special committee recommendation that considered the varying perspectives of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and athletics community,” GWU’s Board of Trustees Chairwoman Grace Speights said in a statement. 

“A moniker must unify our community, draw people together and serve as a source of pride. We look forward to the next steps in an inclusive process to identify a moniker that fulfills this aspiration.”

This comes after GWU student leaders in recent years changed the names of several public gathering areas around the school to strip them of the moniker, including renaming the student body section at sporting events, which once was referred to as the “Colonial Army,” to “George’s Army,” student publication The GW Hatchet reported

The GWU student body also recommended alternatives to the “Colonial” moniker such as the “Hippos” and “Revolutionaries” through a petition started in 2018 which garnered nearly 550 signatures, the school newspaper noted. 

“As we embark on our third century, we must continue to lead with our values, strengths and the diversity of the George Washington University community,” GWU President Mark S. Wrighton said in a statement. “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. While some may disagree with the outcome, this process has determined that changing the moniker is the right decision for our university.”

In a statement to The Hill, GWU’s chapter of College Republicans expressed their disappointment with the school’s board decision.

“We believe that the Colonial mascot does not uphold colonialism, rather it is meant to honor the colonists of the Continental Army who fought against tyrannical colonialism in the establishment of our nation,” the association said in a statement.

“These colonials fought against foreign rule, they weren’t advocates of the practice of colonialism. The erasure of the Colonial mascot is an erasure of the sacrifice made by those who dedicated their lives to the creation of our great nation,” the association added. 

“We are also deeply troubled with the possibility that this could snowball into the changing of the University’s name itself, which we remain in vehement opposition to.”

The “Colonials” moniker is slated to be used until a new name is announced following an “engagement process” within the GWU community, which is expected to be completed by the 2023-24 academic school year, according to the release.

Updated: 6:42 p.m.

Tags George Washington University George Washington University George Washington University school name change Washington D.C.
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