Student Association leaders want to quantify how many students support retiring the Colonials nickname.
The SA Senate will debate a proposed referendum Monday that, if approved by a two-thirds majority, would ask students during SA elections late next month whether the University should pick a new nickname. SA leaders said that if a majority of students indicate that they want a nickname change, the hard data could pressure officials to explore other options.
“This will be the first time we get an actual vote and an actual quantitative answer on whether the student body feels strongly about this,” SA Sen. Hayley Margolis, CCAS-U, said.
The referendum is the latest effort from student leaders to change the Colonials nickname after students launched a petition last year calling on the University to change the nickname to something less “offensive,” like the hippo. The petition garnered more than 500 student signatures.
After the renaming efforts slowed in the fall, students revived the push and hosted a panel discussion earlier this month with faculty members who talked about the negative connotations of colonialism around the world.
Margolis said she collected the names and emails of about 70 people who attended the panel discussion and has since sent out a weekly newsletter to update students on efforts to change the nickname.
Hours before the senate debates the referendum on Monday, students will also hang signs in and around District House promoting the measure, she said. Margolis will also invite students who support a nickname change to speak during public comment at Monday’s meeting, she said.
“It’s not just three senators that care about this issue, it’s something that actual students care about too,” she said.
Margolis said the referendum results will help student leaders advocate for the creation of an administrative task force that would evaluate ways to phase out the Colonials nickname and propose alternatives.
“Hopefully, this is the step that makes admin realize that this is something we need to start considering in the near future,” she said. “We understand that’s a process. It’s not just going to be overnight.”
SA Sen. Andre Gonzales, CCAS-U, said SA leaders will host roundtable discussions or film screenings to promote the nickname change if the referendum passes through the senate. The events will keep students engaged in the debate leading up to the student-wide vote next month, he said.
“What it does is it creates that conversation that students have been asking for so long and allows us to sit down and say, ‘How do we come to terms with this?’” he said. “We need to find ways to ensure the University community can be a welcoming, vibrant community.”
SA Sen. Amy Martin, ESIA-U, said the referendum is a more advanced way to press administrators to finally voice their position on changing the Colonials nickname, which they have repeatedly declined to do since the petition launched last spring.
Martin added that she would advocate for an administrative task force to discuss the nickname regardless of the turnout of the referendum. She said the topic is worth debating further with students, faculty and officials even if the nickname offends only a handful of students.
She said the task force would also allow alumni, several of whom have voiced disapproval of the nickname change on social media over the past year, to join in on the discussion.
“Regardless of what happens with the referendum, our intention is to keep the conversation going,” Martin said.