GW Board of Trustees votes to retire "Colonials" in 2023-24, releases statement about the change


Wow. The Hatchet just tweeted that GW's Board of Trustees has voted to retire the Colonials nickname and GW released a full statement confirming it. 

This has been an issue on campus for some for quite a while and a task force was discussing it, but I wasn't sure it would actually change. And of course, I expect some pushback to this from donors, alumni, etc., so we'll see if and when it happens. GW has already sent out alumni giving emails about it too, probably guessing there will be some anger from donors.

GW's statement is quite long, but gives reasons for the change and says there's a process underway to identify a new nickname, as well as a way to give feedback at the Moniker website. (They really like calling it a moniker.) They also link to the Moniker Committee's full report. It's dated March 2021 and says it's for University Pres. Thomas LeBlanc, who left in January 2022, but I don't believe it was released previously.

Here are some selected findings from that report, as noted in GW's statement:
  • The committee said that changing names should be rare but also recognized that the GW community was divided on whether to change the Colonials moniker. In this case, the special committee found that the Colonials moniker does not adequately match the values of GW and can no longer serve its purpose as a name that unifies the community.
  • The committee sought to understand the history of the term Colonial, how Colonials was initially selected for the moniker, the harm caused by the moniker and affinity for and prominence of the moniker within the GW community.
  • According to history experts, George Washington himself firmly rejected the term “colonial” in the few times he used it. Research also found that the term “Colonials” was not used during the 1607-1776 Colonial Era, and it did not become popular until the Colonial Revival period of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
  • While Colonials became GW’s moniker in 1926, the special committee determined that the moniker arose casually and haphazardly, lacking thoughtful university-wide consideration.
  • The special committee identified a significant difference in connotation for the term Colonials. For supporters, the term refers to those who lived in the American colonies, especially those who fought for independence and democracy. For opponents, Colonials means colonizers who stole land and resources from indigenous groups, killed or exiled Native peoples and introduced slavery into the colonies. These are perspectives that cannot be easily harmonized, the committee concluded. Use and popularity of the moniker also has declined in recent years.
The statement from GW also talks about the process to selected a new name: 

The university already has determined some of the next steps in choosing a new moniker, including: 
  • Selection of a firm that will partner with GW and its diverse stakeholders in the development of strategies, processes and creative recommendations.
  • Establishment of a special advisory committee that includes GW leaders, alumni, faculty and students to monitor progress of work and make recommendations.
  • Commitment to a broad engagement effort for stakeholders throughout the entire GW community to participate in the creation, evaluation and selection of the new moniker.The board, members of the special committee and university leaders are hopeful that the GW community will be active in the process of choosing a new moniker. 
“We have a great opportunity to conduct an inclusive process that will determine how we as a community want to come together around a unifying moniker and showcase ourselves as a distinguished and distinguishable university,” Wrighton said. “I am very excited for our next steps together.”

I can see both sides here. Colonialism is bad, and you could argue that the US was definitely colonialist and did a lot of bad things. However, the name refers to the American colonies fighting the British, who also colonized the country. (But as noted above, that term wasn't really used during the war.) 

Even when I was a student, people thought the name was corny -- not because of the connotation about colonialism, but just not really that inspiring. I always liked it, but as others have noted on Twitter, it's not the most catchy or even accurate. 

I just hope they don't pick the Hippos as the replacement.

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