Updated: Feb. 4, 2023 at 12:52 p.m.
Students said officials started surveying their opinions on more than a dozen ideas for GW’s next moniker at a series of private focus groups this week.
Students who participated in the focus groups, which were not open to the public, said a marketing firm introduced 15 moniker options in Duquès Hall Wednesday and Thursday, including The Fog, Revolutionaries, Sentinels and Monumentals. Officials will conduct a total of six focus groups with Chicago-based marketing firm Yes& Lipman Hearne, according to an audio recording of a Wednesday meeting obtained by The Hatchet.
Nine student participants, who asked to remain anonymous because they were unsure if they were allowed to speak about the meeting, said the list of monikers included Fireworks, Cavalry, Ambassadors, Foghoppers, Fogriders, The Revolution, Firecrackers, Independence, Independents, The Buzz and Blue Fog. Some students said officials urged them to keep the discussions private.
The Barstool GW Instagram account first reported the list of 15 nicknames Wednesday night.
University spokesperson Julia Metjian said officials are “exploring” options for the new moniker and are “gathering feedback” from community members. Metjian declined to say how officials selected the moniker options, what role focus groups will play in the final selection and if officials will host surveys for faculty and staff.
“In the coming weeks, we will share some of these options publicly with the entire GW community for additional input,” Metjian said in an email. “We recognize that the selection of the new moniker is an important decision, and we look forward to a robust engagement effort that will provide all members of our community with the opportunity to register their opinions about the various options.”
The focus groups are part of the administration’s efforts to select a replacement for GW’s nearly century-old Colonials moniker after the Board of Trustees voted to retire the nickname last year following years of pressure from students who said it glorified colonialism. Officials plan to select a moniker by the 2023-24 academic year after releasing a set of principles to steer student feedback last month and ruling out the Hippos in the same announcement, which has become GW’s unofficial mascot since the 1996 installation of the “River Horse” statue outside Lisner Auditorium.
Eight students attended a focus group survey for undergraduate students Wednesday, according to the recording. Students said the focus groups took place at the Behavioral Laboratory on the third floor of Duquès Hall. Alongside officials from Yes& Lipman Hearne, eight students were seen leaving the Behavioral Laboratory Thursday afternoon, and six were seen leaving Thursday night.
Officials randomly selected the students in the undergraduate focus groups, according to an email from Dean of Students Colette Coleman to selected students, which was obtained by The Hatchet. Coleman said in the email that participants would receive a $125 Amazon gift card as an “honorarium,” and students said officials catered the meetings with food from Panera Bread.
“Your insight is vital to informing future decisions about the new moniker,” Coleman said. “It is critically important that we hear your voice.”
Officials hired Sullivan – a New York-based consulting firm specializing in higher education – to lead the moniker selection process after a “competitive” bidding period, according to a University release issued in September. Coleman said officials are working with Yes& Lipman Hearne to facilitate the private surveys but did not mention in the email how Sullivan contributed to the focus groups.
After the undergraduate meetings Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, participants said officials did not ask their opinion on the Fogriders and Foghoppers monikers. One student in the Wednesday evening undergraduate student focus group said participants sharply criticized those two nicknames, saying The Fog was the only fog-based moniker variant that “made sense.”
“They were so unpopular,” one of the graduate students said in an interview after a Thursday focus group session.
Students at Thursday’s graduate survey said officials told them they plan to speak with alumni next.
Donna Van De Water, the group facilitator at the undergraduate focus group Wednesday and the chief operating officer at Yes& Lipman Hearne, said participants would be asked to grade each moniker on how “tenacious,” “electric” and “open” they are, according to the meeting recording.
“We all come from different places and have different experiences, and that’s why we wanted to bring a group together because people have different perspectives on the monikers that we’re going to be talking about,” Van De Water said in the meeting.
One participant in the Wednesday evening focus group for undergraduate students said the Behavioral Laboratory where the focus groups took place contained a one-way mirror. They said officials from the firm watched the survey from behind the mirror in the lab.
They said no students in that group objected to The Fog, which was the most popular nickname among the options that Van De Water presented to the focus group.
“The main proponent of The Fog was that it connected the community of Foggy Bottom as a whole and our identity geographically into the school’s moniker,” the student said. “And everyone there thought that made sense, and out of the 15, that was the only plausible option.”
One participant in the Thursday focus group for undergraduate students said while rating the monikers, The Fog “scored pretty low” among students in their focus group. They said Revolutionaries, Monumentals and Sentinels were the most popular options in their focus group, with participants rating Revolutionaries the “highest.”
They added that there was a “generational gap” between the focus group facilitators and students, which could lead to a disconnect in the facilitators’ understanding of students’ opinions.
“Most of the students, I think, would rather go with a funny moniker than one that actually, like, relates to the school,” they said. “And they were completely taken off guard by that.”
Caitlin Kitson, Cristina Stassis, Erika Filter, Eóighan Noonan and Shea Carlberg contributed reporting.
This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that students were asked to consider Continentals as an idea for GW’s next moniker. The list of options did not include Continentals. We regret this error. This post has also been updated to include an additional interview with an undergraduate student who participated in the Thursday undergraduate focus group.
This article appeared in the February 2, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.