Best and worst of GW’s 200-year history

Congrats, GW – you’ve made it 200 years strong.

Since your establishment two centuries ago, you’ve changed nicknames, altered admissions practices and participated in tons of protests. In commemoration of this milestone, the editorial board deliberated GW’s best and worst moments. Opinions editor Hannah Thacker looks into the history of the Colonials moniker; contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue lays out the evolution of GW’s tuition costs; culture editor Anna Boone comments on campus expansion; managing editor Parth Kotak breaks down the racial history of GW; managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah talks about student activism; design editor Olivia Columbus weighs in on gender equality; and sports editor Emily Maise sheds light on the history of sports.

From each member of the editorial board, here’s a look at some of the University’s highs and lows over the years, as well as what we can learn from these events moving forward:

Hannah Thacker, opinions editor

Hannah Thacker | Opinions Editor

In 1926, GW rebranded itself as the Colonials amid dissatisfaction from students over the former name, the “Hatcheteers.” Since the change, the University has pretty much altered everything around campus, from sports jerseys to store apparel. In hindsight, switching to a new nickname was good – it demonstrated that officials were listening to students. But as we reflect on GW’s history and look to prosper, we need to look into another change.

The Colonials moniker has had its fair share of criticism, and the editorial board has joined several student organizations in calls for it to be removed. The concerns are valid – the Colonials moniker is divisive and harmful to several student groups. It’s been time for the University to adopt a more respectful nickname, and officials should use this period of reflection to ditch it once and for all.

Andrew Sugrue, contributing opinions editor
GW spent its early decades as a commuter school. Low tuition and the D.C. location made it an ideal choice for students looking to split time between college and building their careers. Notable alumni like former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., were among the many up-and-coming professionals who got a quality education on the cheap. But things changed a bit in the ’90s – GW reinvented itself as the more traditional campus we know today. Tuition began to soar, with the University’s yearly cost becoming the highest in the nation at one point.

Now, GW has a reputation as a pricey institution. Its career-building bona fides remain incredibly strong – GW is the internship capital of the American higher education system, and programs like the Elliott School of International Affairs and the School of Media and Public Affairs are top-notch feeders into the professional world. But the skyrocketing tuition prices that began a few decades ago helped blaze the trail for the exorbitant cost of attendance that hallmarks American higher education today.

Anna Boone, culture editor

Hannah Thacker | Opinions Editor

During his time as University president, from 1965 to 1988, Lloyd Elliot oversaw the building of three libraries: Melvin Gelman Library, Jacob Burns Law Library and Paul Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library. He was also responsible for the creation of the Academic Center, Funger Hall, The Charles E. Smith Center for Physical Education and Athletics and the Cloyd Heck Marvin Student Center.

While athletes and introverted nature fiends might disagree, the affiliation of the Mount Vernon Campus to the University, which was established in 1999, is inefficient and confusing. For some, the Vern is quiet and relaxing, and for other students it is infuriating and a waste of time. GW has a chance to invest more in the campus or nix it, especially while it’s cleared out during the pandemic.

Parth Kotak, managing editor
Over the course of its two centuries of existence, GW, a predominately White institution, has had a fraught relationship with racial minorities on campus, including a particularly thorny history involving Black students. An infamous letter penned by racist then-University President Cloyd Marvin barred a Black applicant from consideration and laid bare that GW was a school for Whites only, an attitude that attracted controversy when the school barred Black theatergoers from viewing Lisner Auditorium’s first commercial production in 1946.

Ultimately, administrators were forced to integrate the school in 1954 following the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In the years since, the institution has tried to become a more welcoming place for Black and other minority students. Although GW is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, for hundreds of students on campus, GW’s gates were closed to them until about 67 years ago – and every member of the GW community should endeavor to ensure that those students who until recently were barred feel like full citizens of GW’s campus.

Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, managing director

Hannah Thacker | Opinions Editor

For 200 years, students have used their prime location in the District to protest wars, policies and injustices. At the height of the Vietnam War, students used Thurston Hall to mobilize protests and wash down demonstrators who had been stung by tear gas. Later, students continued their opposition to war – protesting against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Students protested a speaking engagement with former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, joined Black Lives Matter protesters in the District and marched to the White House to object to former President Donald Trump’s election.

For several of those years, GW was considered among the most politically active schools in the country. Everyone has experienced the Hilltern who sees themselves as the future president or the security policy concentration future warmonger. But sometimes GW’s political activity leaks into student government. Three times in the Student Association’s history, a candidate has attempted to abolish it. But GW’s propensity for scandals in student politics does not only include the SA. Most recently, members of the GW College Democrats’ executive board were accused of rigging an election for a freshman representative, prompting half of the board to resign.

Political activity on campus can be good, but it can also be detrimental to a healthy campus life. Sometimes, students take it too far.

Olivia Columbus, design editor
While most people associate her name with GW’s famed freshman residence hall, Mabel Thurston was the first woman admitted to GW as an undergraduate student in 1888. One year later, the University opened admission to 11 women, paving the way for the admission of women throughout the years. GW was by no means a pioneer in admitting women to the University, and not all women were given equal opportunity for admission. Nevertheless, the admission of women was an important and significant step for the University to become more equitable.

While the University began regularly admitting White women for undergraduate programs in 1891, not all women were afforded the chance to be admitted to their preferred academic program. Any woman seeking a higher degree in the legal or medical fields were not admitted until 1913 and 1911, respectively, and women of color were not admitted at all until the school desegregated in 1954. We can learn from our unequal history that these events were not so long ago and are still impacting women around the world today.

Emily Maise, sports editor:
GW broke its athletic color barrier in 1963, seeing the first Black athlete compete in the buff and blue and granting its first scholarship to a Black athlete. Rocky Wright became the first Black student-athlete to play for GW, joining the freshman men’s basketball team. Norman Neverson became the first Black scholarship athlete in March of the same year, competing with the football team as a linesman. Wright and Neverson opened the door for Black athletes at GW. Their integration of the athletic department created a pathway for other Black student-athletes to hone their craft and become trailblazers in their sports.

The Colonials reduced the size of the athletic department three times in the University’s history, displacing more than 150 student-athletes and coaches due to program cuts. Football was the first program slashed in 1966, followed by wrestling and badminton in 1989. The most recent cuts came just a few months ago in July when the athletic department axed seven sports. The final wave of cuts were sped up by the COVID-19 pandemic as the athletic department sought to reduce its size to match other schools who were winning championships at a more frequent pace. Despite our many winning teams, GW has been consistently slimming down on the sports offerings throughout the years. GW should take a step back, learn from our history and start to reimplement some of the sports that have been cut throughout the years.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Hannah Thacker, contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue, managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, managing editor Parth Kotak, sports editor Emily Maise, culture editor Anna Boone and design editor Olivia Columbus, based on discussions of the whole board.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.