by Alexa Schwerha
George Washington University, located in the heart of the nation’s capital, is ditching the moniker “Colonials” in favor of a campus-wide nickname that will better “unite” the campus community.
The decision was announced Wednesday by the Office of the President after the Board of Trustees voted to toss the name, a move that came at the recommendation of The Board and Special Committee on the Colonials Moniker.
“The Board and Special Committee determined that given the division among the community about the moniker, it can no longer serve its purpose as a name that unifies,” the announcement read. “The university is now undertaking a process to engage the community on choosing a new moniker.”
“Colonials” is expected to be retired by the 2023-2024 academic year.
A 31-page report accused the word of having negative undertones associated with “colonization.”
“‘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,” the report stated.
The report claims that “a little over half” of the GWU community opposes the moniker, but notes that supporters of its use associate “Colonials” “with those who lived in the colonies” and fought in the Revolutionary War.
“These are perspectives that cannot be easily harmonized,” the report noted.
The committee voted 13-1 to advise university leadership to retire the moniker to preserve “university unity” and promote “university values.”
GWU College Republicans Chairman Ezra Meyer told Campus Reform that the decision was “disappointing and polarizing.”
“This decision was made in the name of school unity but in reality it will only act to gratify radical factions of the student body and further perpetuate division amongst an already fractured school community,” Meyer said.
Meyer is also a Campus Reform correspondent.
The committee included representatives from the faculty, student body, staff, and alumni. It was chaired by law professor Mary Cheh, who deferred to the report for comment.
Rebranding efforts began in 2019 after the Board of Trustees established the Task Force on Naming to examine the campus’ history. The committee was officially formed in July 2020.
The retirement of “Colonials” caught wind with left-leaning student organizations, who claim that the use of the word “severely impacts school spirit and the experience of the student body,” per a petition circulated in 2020.
Groups included the Black Student Union, Black Defiance, Students for Indigenous and Native Rights, Persist GW, and Students Against Imperialism.
The GWU College Republicans, however, disagree.
“These colonials fought against foreign rule, they weren’t advocates of the practice of colonialism,” the group said in a statement provided to Campus Reform. “The erasure of the Colonial mascot is the erasure of the sacrifice made by those who dedicated their lives to the creation of our great nation.”
“As a colonial mascot was in reference to colonists of revolutionary America who fought for independence in opposition to colonialism, the decision continues on the recent trend at my school of rejecting American history,” Meyer added independently.
The call to rebrand the university does not end at its nickname.
In May, The Washington Post published an opinion article that demanded the school rethink its namesake and cut ties with the American founding father.
The College Republicans warn that changing the moniker could “snowball” to make this opinion a reality.
“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 group said. “We look forward to any collaboration or inquiries to resolve this issue.”
The school has already made strides in renaming campus buildings, a common tactic used by university leadership to distance itself from historical impacts.
In 2021, GWU renamed the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center after it was revealed the former university president supported racial segregation.
The building is now referred to as the University Student Center.
A replacement for “Colonials” is currently being discussed and will include community input. No official change has been made.
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Alexa Schwerha is a reporter for Campus Reform. She was the Regional Field Coordinator at Leadership Institute for Texas and New Mexico. She graduated Kent State University with a degree in Communication Studies and Political Science. Prior to her work at the Leadership Institute, she worked for the Ohio Republican Party to help elect Republicans across the state during the 2020 election cycle.
Photo “George Washington University Campus” by Another Believer CC3.0