When officials stated they have “been following the conversation” about removing the controversial Colonials nickname, the University squandered an opportunity to promote a productive dialogue about the issue.
The Student Association asked students whether they supported the change in a referendum on this year’s ballot during SA elections. The measure was approved by 54 percent, but officials have not been transparent about their stance even as the conversation continues on campus.
The recent vote is not the first time officials have ignored SA referendums. The University did not publicly respond to two referendums in 2016 that asked students whether GW should divest from fossil fuels and include Metro cards in students’ tuition – both of which garnered more than 70 percent of the vote. Students continued to push for the changes with protests and advocacy, but neither change has been implemented. The University is following a similar change by neglecting to respond to the nickname change. Officials should take a formal stance on removing the Colonials nickname so students pushing for the change are not left in the dark about how the University’s leaders feel about changing the name.
Prior to the referendum, more than 500 students petitioned to change the nickname and after a monthslong lull, SA leaders held a panel discussion with faculty and an ambassador – with students also in attendance – to discuss the controversial connotations of the nickname around the world. But officials have been silent during each push. Since the referendum was approved, officials like University President Thomas LeBlanc and Dean of the Student Experience Cissy Petty should have issued public statements about whether they think the nickname should change. Without doing so, students who have dedicated the past year to changing the nickname are being entirely ignored by the people with the power to approve the change.
By taking a formal stance on changing the nickname, the University could also tap groups that are on the fence about the issue. SA leaders have faced some backlash from alumni since they began pushing for a name change. But officials have stayed away from the back-and-forth between students and alumni, allowing alumni to continue retaliating against a change they don’t know whether the University backs. GW has the potential to act as a middleman between students and alumni and can help both stakeholders make a firm decision on the change by taking a formal stance.
Officials have listened and responded to student advocacy in the past. After a racist Snapchat rocked campus last year, officials implemented a slew of measures, including diversity training for incoming students. The University will offer students the option to take an 18th credit next academic year without paying an extra fee – a move that follows a referendum and more than a year of SA advocacy. While the efforts were less controversial than choosing whether to pick a new nickname, the moves demonstrate how officials and students can work together to enact institutional changes.
Officials should stop “following the conversation” about the nickname change and begin actively participating in it. The referendum is an opportunity for all parts of the University to decide whether to ditch Colonials for a new moniker, and officials should take a formal stance so students know their advocacy will not be fruitless.
Jacob Tafrate, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is an opinions writer.
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This article appeared in the April 11, 2019 issue of the Hatchet.