Updated: May 17, 2018 at 6:53 p.m.
Over the past few weeks, a complex conversation around changing GW’s mascot and nickname has started on campus.
At the end of April, students launched a petition to formally change the Colonials to something less “offensive,” like “revolutionaries” or “riverhorses.” Prior to the creation of the petition, individual students have suggested a change to the “hippos,” which is a nod to the statue outside Lisner Auditorium, given by former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. While The Hatchet’s editorial board could not come to a consensus on whether the nickname should change – the conversation is a positive step to make students feel like their voices are heard when they feel uncomfortable on campus.
Administrators should gain information from the entire student body to better understand if this is an issue that needs to be addressed.
There has been a lot of conversation on the “Colonials” controversy. Some members of our editorial board were uncertain of the reasoning behind the change, as the nickname isn’t celebrating colonization but underscoring the history of being a British colony. Others believed that a change might be beneficial, as the current nickname downplays the historical significance of American colonialism and has made some students uneasy.
But, more opinions from students and alumni need to be obtained before a decision is made to keep the Colonials or switch to something new. It is important to have conversations about how students are represented on campus, especially if something approved by the University through mascots or nicknames is making students feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. While the University has been moving forward with diversity and inclusion initiatives like mandatory diversity training, this focus should extend to having open conversations about topics like the mascot.
Administrators should gain information from the entire student body to better understand if this is an issue that needs to be addressed. While more than 500 students have expressed their thoughts, the entire student body deserves to have their voices heard on this issue. Aside from individual students, administrators should gauge opinions from student organizations that are a part of the multicultural community on campus. Native students’ perspectives are vital to this process. International students’ perspectives are also necessary as they have unique perspectives on what the nickname means to them because they are not connected to American history.
Students have brought up concerns on an international level, so administrators should take those into consideration as well. Some students claimed that the study abroad office has encouraged students to not wear GW attire with the nickname on it while they study and travel abroad. If that is the case, concerns from the office and its employees should be addressed as they weigh this issue.
Although the intention to change the nickname in 1926 from Hatchetites to Colonials was to recognize the history of the U.S. as a British colony, for some, times have changed and the word now carries the weight of colonialism. For some students, Colonials is a name that memorializes the colonization and genocide of Native Americans and the oppression of cultures across the world. This means that while the intent of the word isn’t to bring up historical grievances, for some students, the nickname cannot be separated from the violence that is associated with colonialism and imperialism.
While administrators gather information, Student Association President Ashley Le is required through petition policy to respond in some way. Now that the petition has gained more than 500 signatures, Le should stress student opinions with University President Thomas LeBlanc and other administrators. If the University stands by the nickname, administrators should be upfront about informing the student body and alumni on their stance and reasoning because they should be proud of symbols that represent our school.
Regardless of how the University responds to the controversy, this is an important conversation to have.
This conversation can also be an opportunity to re-evaluate other controversial names on campus. Students have expressed concern about the Marvin Center being named after a controversial figure, former University President Cloyd Heck Marvin. Marvin was a supporter of segregation and often suppressed student publications that were critical of his administration. By moving away from the name Colonials, perhaps the University will be prompted to challenge the name of the Marvin Center and other University spaces and slogans that students are uncomfortable with as well.
Regardless of how the University responds to the controversy, this is an important conversation to have. As the University looks to improve diversity and be more inclusive, it needs to look inward and determine all the ways the institution might make students of certain groups feel uncomfortable.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversation with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, design editor Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi and culture editor Matt Dynes.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
Due to an editing error, The Hatchet incorrectly referenced native students in a sentence that intended to say international students. We regret this error.