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George Washington University votes to discontinue 'Colonials' nickname

The university said in a statement that the board determined the name of over 90 years "can no longer serve its purpose as a name that unifies."

WASHINGTON — The George Washington University community will no longer be known by the moniker the "Colonials."

The university's Board of Trustees and a specially-designed committee determined the nickname of more than 90 years "can no longer serve its purpose as a name that unifies," the university said in a Wednesday statement. 

Debate over the name change kicked up in 2019 when then-GWU President Thomas LeBlanc said a new committee of students, faculty and alumni would assess whether the school’s nickname should stay or go. 

The committee ultimately compiled a report outlining key factors used to inform its recommendation to tank the name. Among those on the committee was the chairwoman, D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who serves as a professor at the university’s law school.

While it's generally recognized that the moniker serves as a nod to George Washington’s role as America’s preeminent colonial figure, students began asking the university around that time to consider the name’s meaning to international peers who may have experienced negative effects of recent colonialism.

“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,” said Board Chair Grace Speights, J.D. ’82. “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.”

According to WUSA9's 2020 reporting, a student named Elyssa Clauson was among the first to sign a name change petition. She said it's not a knock against George Washington, but as an orientation leader for international students, she said "Colonials" was sometimes a loaded term.

"We always had kind of a hard time explaining to them about the mascot, explaining why we were the colonials," Clauson said. "And we kind of realized that it wasn't really representative of the student body of GW." 

During her study abroad time, Clauson said she didn't feel comfortable even wearing GWU clothing. 

"Everyone on my program got to wear their university shirts and stuff in Morocco. And I was like, "well I can't wear something that says, 'Go Colonials!' in Morocco," she said. "You know I loved GW and I loved my time there, and I wanted to be able to represent GW."

As far as a new nickname goes, the university stated that they have already determined some of the next steps in choosing one. They said they'll prioritize selecting a firm that will partner with GW to develop strategies, processes and creative recommendations for the implementation.

The university also plans to establish a special advisory committee that includes GW leaders, alumni, faculty and students to monitor the progress of work and make recommendations.

"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," the university said while spotlighting a page community members can use to submit feedback.

Anyone wishing to send in their thoughts can share them by clicking here - comments are to be considered during the next phase of the process, according to the university.

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