George Washington University retires ‘Colonials’ moniker after demands from student activists

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George Washington University will discontinue the use of Colonials as a moniker after years of campaigning against the school’s mascot by students who insisted it was racist.

The school’s board of trustees announced Wednesday that a new moniker for the school will be introduced by the 2023-24 academic year “after a broad university community engagement process.”

“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,” Board chairwoman Grace Speights said.

“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.”

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Students at George Washington University have for years asserted that the school’s mascot, George the Colonial, and its moniker, the Colonials, are linked to white supremacy and are offensive. In November 2019, the board formed a Task Force on Naming to address the concerns of the student body.

In July 2020, President Emeritus Thomas LeBlanc created a special committee on the Colonials moniker that featured representatives from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and outside historical experts to conduct research and then make a recommendation to the board on whether the moniker should be changed.

The findings of the committee’s report, published in March 2021, were that a new moniker was needed because 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.”

Historical experts tapped by the committee said that founding father George Washington himself, the university’s namesake, had rejected the term “colonial” and that its widespread use to describe the 1607-1776 Colonial Era in America did not emerge until the late 19th and 20th centuries.

“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 board said.

Interim university President Mark Wrighton praised the committee’s work in the release.

“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,” he said. “While some may disagree with the outcome, this process has determined that changing the moniker is the right decision for our University.”

Work to remove the Colonials moniker from campus had already begun before the committee made its recommendation. In late 2019, student leaders changed the name of GW’s fan section at athletic events from Colonial Army to George’s Army, and the Colonial Central was renamed the Student Services Hub, according to the GW Hatchet student newspaper.

Student activists have previously suggested switching to using the “Hippos,” an unofficial mascot at GW, or the “Revolutionaries” as a new moniker.

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