Staff Editorial: No hippo? Say it ain’t so!

GW’s hippo is an endangered species.

First, it vanishes from your T-shirts and sweats. Then you notice it’s not at basketball games. Before you know it, the only hippo on campus is the bronze one at 21st and H streets.

On Wednesday, University officials said that GW is phasing out the swimming mammal as its unofficial mascot. The University’s eventual removal of the hippo, a mascot students love and embrace, is a heavy-handed, unilateral and poorly defended move that should be seriously reconsidered.

Brought to campus in 1996 by former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in the form of a bronze statue, the hippo will no longer appear on GW merchandise, and the mascot will have more limited appearances. In order to create a more “unified brand,” GW will be consolidating its representation behind the George and Big George mascots.

When the bronze statue first appeared at the corner of 21st and H streets, students were skeptical, but the hippo slowly gained acceptance, becoming the University’s unofficial mascot in 2001. Students have embraced the hippo as representative of the more whimsical side of the University. On a campus populated with BlackBerrys and suits, the hippo grounds us and keeps our college image lighthearted.

The phasing out of the hippo epitomizes the disconnect between the students and Rice Hall. The hippo is important to us. More importantly, we dislike having our unofficial mascot summarily transitioned out without a public discussion on the issue.

So why are they doing this?

The official logic, according to John Och, coordinator of licensing and trademarks, is that GW needs a “unified brand” to have better “brand recognition” in the national collegiate market. Apparently, being only the Colonials is essential to a consistent University image, despite the number of schools – the University of Virginia and Georgetown among them – that have official and unofficial mascots.

What the administration should realize is that the hippo is GW’s most distinctive brand.

At a campus where it’s hard enough to get students behind anything, is it really necessary to pick on something that the students enjoy? GW tries hard to get traditions to catch on, and the hippo has.

Removing the hippo from University events and merchandise may seem like merely a cosmetic change. In a few years, though, incoming freshmen will no longer associate the hippo with GW, and the unofficial mascot will be lost to the pages of history. And even if you don’t love the hippo, the aggressive nature of its removal should make you mad.

The University’s reasoning is weak – and there are plenty of things students dislike about GW that could be addressed rather than phasing out one of the things that students hold dear.

The administration’s “branding” argument is so flimsy, it makes you wonder if there’s more to this than meets the eye. GW is still in a transitory period between Trachtenberg and current University President Steven Knapp – and perhaps the silencing of the hippo is a rejection of the Trachtenberg era.

Hippos in D.C. should be careful. In August, the National Zoo announced it was getting rid of Happy the hippo, and now another District hippo is threatened.

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