George Washington University Drops ‘Colonials’ Moniker

The school adopted the moniker in 1926, but a special committee determined that differing views of the term today create division in the university community.
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  • The decision to drop the moniker has been in the works since November 2019.
  • The term no longer serves its purpose as a name that unifies, a special committee found.
  • The moniker has already slowly lost visibility on campus, the student newspaper reports.

George Washington rejected the term "colonial" during his own ascension from military officer to first president of the United States of America. Now, the university named after the Founding Father is rejecting the use of the term as well.

The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., announced last week it will discontinue the use of the Colonials moniker, saying the term no longer serves its purpose as a name that unifies.

The decision was made by the George Washington University Board of Trustees and the Special Committee on the Colonials Moniker — both of whom determined that the term caused division in the community.

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"A moniker must unify our community, draw people together and serve as a source of pride," Board Chair Grace Speights said in the release. "We look forward to the next steps in an inclusive process to identify a moniker that fulfills this aspiration."

The decision to drop the moniker has been in the works since November 2019. That's when the board formed its Task Force on Naming, which was charged with recommending the principles and procedures for addressing name change requests, according to the university.

After the task force developed guidance for addressing name change requests, the university established its Special Committee on the Colonials Moniker to make a recommendation to the board to determine if the Colonials name should be changed.

The committee — made up of faculty, staff, students, alumni, athletes, and expert advisers familiar with the university's history — conducted extensive research, held three town hall events, and carried out a university-wide survey to poll the community's views about the moniker.

In its final report, the committee found that changing names should be rare but said the Colonials moniker does not unify nor match the values of the university. The committee also identified a difference in which the moniker is viewed among supporters and opponents.

Supporters view Colonials as a term that refers to those who lived in the American colonies and fought for independence and democracy. Opponents view the meaning of Colonials as colonizers who stole land and resources from Indigenous groups, killed or exiled Native people, and introduced slavery into the colonies, the committee found.

Because of the vastly different perspectives, the committee concluded the views cannot be easily harmonized — and ultimately made the decision to drop the moniker.

The Founding Father for whom the university is named also had a negative view of the term. Washington "firmly rejected" it, the report said. The moniker didn't actually become popular until the Colonial Revival period of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The GW Hatchet, the university's independent student newspaper, reported that the Colonials moniker has slowly lost visibility on campus in recent years.

In 2018, George Washington University students launched a petition that reached nearly 550 signatures to change George Washington's official moniker, calling the term "extremely offensive," The GW Hatchet reported.

The next year, student leaders changed the name of the university's fan section at athletic events from Colonial Army to George's Army. The university also changed the name of its shared services center from Colonial Central to the Student Services Hub and renamed an event once called Coffee With Colonials to Coffee With Alumni.

George Washington University adopted the Colonials moniker in 1926. The selection was made casually and haphazardly, the committee found, and lacked university-wide consideration.

The university plans to use the moniker until the 2023-2024 academic year when a new name is expected to be introduced.

"While some may disagree with the outcome," George Washington University President Mark S. Wrighton said in a statement, "this process has determined that changing the moniker is the right decision for our university."