Updated: July 20, 2020 at 5:38 p.m.
Officials are establishing two University-wide committees to examine the Colonials moniker and the Marvin Center building name following criticism from some community members.
The committees’ formation comes weeks after the Board of Trustees approved a framework to consider renaming requests for GW’s buildings and memorials as well as the Colonials moniker. University President Thomas LeBlanc announced in an email Monday that Ward 3 Councilmember and research professor of law Mary Cheh will serve as the chair of the Special Committee on the Colonials Moniker and Roger Fairfax, a research professor of law, will serve as the chair of the Special Committee on the Marvin Center.
“I want to emphasize that while establishing these committees is an important part of the process to consider renaming requests, it does not indicate that we are presupposing a specific outcome,” LeBlanc said in the email. “The framework from the Board encompasses principles, procedures and considerations to employ in reviewing all requests, and it includes an expectation that we offer many opportunities to hear University community feedback.”
The Board’s naming framework, approved late last month, directed LeBlanc to “take immediate steps” to appoint a special committee to evaluate the moniker.
LeBlanc said the committee will include a “diverse and representative” group of students, faculty, staff and alumni.
Cheh said LeBlanc, who will also appoint the other members of the committee, personally asked her to serve as chair.
“When the president calls, I answer,” Cheh said in an interview.
She said she plans to use the six considerations approved by the Board – its historical context, process of initial selection, connection to the University, “depth and breadth” of offense or harm, prominence at GW and the legal and financial implications of changing the moniker – to guide the committee’s discussions and recommendations.
“We will get together, and we’ll figure out how we can do the work that’s been assigned to us – this research and evaluation – and take into account these particular considerations,” she said.
LeBlanc said he formally acknowledges the Student Association’s “requests and documentation” related to the moniker, as directed by the new framework.
Students launched a petition in 2018 calling on officials to change the moniker from the Colonial to the hippo. In 2019, students passed a referendum supporting a moniker change, and former Student Association President SJ Matthews’ established the Colonial Moniker Task Force last September.
Former University President Cloyd Heck Marvin, the namesake of the Marvin Center, doubled enrollment, tripled faculty size and oversaw an eightfold increase of the endowment during his tenure but consistently supported racial segregation at GW.
LeBlanc said he recognizes that many members of the University have “long expressed concern” about the Marvin Center’s namesake. The decision to create the committee follows consultation with the leadership of the Faculty Senate, SA, GW Alumni Association and the academic deans, according to the email.
“I look forward to working with the special committee to undertake the important process set forth in the framework developed by the Naming Task Force, and recently approved by the Board of Trustees,” said Fairfax, the chair of the Marvin Center committee.
LeBlanc is also reviewing requests to rename Fulbright Hall, Madison Hall, The Churchill Center, Monroe Hall of Government and Francis Scott Key Hall, according to an online tracker on the University website. Five student organizations launched a petition earlier this month to rename the buildings along with the Colonials moniker and the Marvin Center in accordance the new renaming process.