Officials must be transparent about slow Colonials name change

Officials do not hesitate to tout themselves on pushes to improve the student experience and institutional culture. Over the past few months, administrators overhauled the GW Police Department, restructured advising and cut fixed tuition.

Although the University is eager to make sweeping changes known to students and staff, officials have quietly removed the Colonials moniker from some merchandise and office names – but have not stated why.

The Student Services Hub is the most recent department that no longer has the Colonials name attached. Even though student leaders said the move did not involve a push to change the Colonials nickname, the student-run Colonial Army changed its name to George’s Army. Last fall, officials changed the season-opening rally for the basketball team from Colonial Madness to GDub Madness. Officials most notably altered the newly revamped freshman orientation from Colonial Inauguration to New Student Orientation. Students are anxiously awaiting an answer from administrators on the name change. Officials should put students at ease and explain their reasons for leaving the Colonials moniker off of several campus departments and events.

Cartoon by Jekko Syquia

The push to change the Colonials nickname has been hotly contested since students launched a petition in May 2018. The debate culminated in a referendum last spring in which a slim margin of voting students backed the name change. Opponents have said ditching the nickname would be expensive and divide the campus community, while supporters have argued that the moniker is offensive, and officials have remained silent. But that has not stopped them from removing the Colonials name from several areas around campus.

Given that administrators haven’t publicly stated whether they will change the name, their rebranding sends a mixed message to the GW community. Officials should be transparent with students about their intentions, rather than slowly and quietly transitioning away from the Colonials moniker.

There is nothing wrong with officials taking the name change one step at a time if they have decided to phase out the Colonials nickname. One professor who was asked what the University should do about the nickname said administrators should “gradually” work to rename institutions on campus that include the name, like the Colonial Health Center. Although the changes would make the rebranding more discreet, gradually removing the name from services without articulating a position makes officials look like they are trying to tiptoe out of the debate.

Officials might try to phase out the name and make a grand announcement on their stance once students are acclimated to a campus with fewer Colonials appearances. But administrators can only remove the moniker from so many spaces before students and faculty begin to question the move. It makes sense why administrators may want to avoid taking either side in the debate over the Colonials name, as either position would alienate a sector of the student body and upset alumni who find a sense of belonging to the University through the nickname. But refraining from the debate while making discreet moves could upset either side of the controversy because officials are the only ones who have refused to take a side.

If officials choose to strip the Colonials name from individual buildings or services on campus, they should articulate their position on the name. The debate over changing the Colonials moniker is not just about an insensitive word but taps into a division among students – half of whom support the name change and half of whom do not. Students have a right to know how officials view a contested label that is supposed to bring the community together.

If officials want to gradually rid the school of the Colonials label, they should explain themselves before renaming other services on campus. If the Colonials controversy had nothing to do with renaming Colonial Central, officials should say that and tell us why we should be proud to see the Colonials name on our campus. Whether students want the moniker to stay or not, the Colonials name is still what identifies us as part of the GW community – and we deserve to know whether administrators still believe it should be the term that unites us.

Natalie Prieb, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is a columnist.

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