George Washington University to drop Colonials nickname over community 'division'

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George Washington University is officially dropping its Colonials nickname, the school announced Wednesday.

Citing the recommendation of the Special Committee on the Colonials Moniker, the GW board of trustees said it decided to discontinue the moniker because it "it can no longer serve its purpose as a name that unifies," due to "division among the community."

The nickname has been used since 1926.

From the statement:

“The board recognizes the significance of changing the university’s moniker, and we made this decision only after a thoughtful and deliberate process that followed the renaming framework and special committee recommendation that considered the varying perspectives of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and athletics community,” said Board Chair Grace Speights, J.D. ’82. “A moniker must unify our community, draw people together and serve as a source of pride. We look forward to the next steps in an inclusive process to identify a moniker that fulfills this aspiration.”

The Colonials nickname will continue to be used until a new moniker is determined, which is expected by the 2023-24 academic year "after a broad university community engagement process."

Students at George Washington circulated a petition in 2018 to change the nickname, citing the history of systemic oppression associated with colonialism:

“We, as students, faculty, and staff of the George Washington University, believe it is of great exigence that the university changes the official nickname for its affiliates. The use of ‘Colonials,’ no matter how innocent the intention, is received as extremely offensive by not only affiliates of the university, but the nation and world at large. The historically, negatively charged figure of Colonials has too deep a connection to colonization and glorifies the act of systemic oppression.”

A year later, the GW student body voted 54 percent in favor of a referendum calling for the name to be changed. The school announced months later it would consider changing the name, leading to the special committee to make a decision on a potential name change.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28:  The George Washington Colonials logo on the floor before a women's college basketball game against the George Mason Patriots at The Smith Center  on February 28, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
George Washington is getting a new nickname. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Why 'Hippos' could be the new George Washington nickname

The 2018 petition mentioned "Hippos" and "Riverhorses" as potential nicknames.

The former comes from a bronze hippopotamus statue purchased by then-GW president Stephen Trachtenberg at an antique store and installed on campus as a gift to the class of 2000. The statue has since become a new campus tradition, with students rubbing its head or putting coins in its mouth for good luck.

It has even involved into an unofficial mascot, with a student attending games in an inflated hippo costume, according to the school. That recent history could give the nickname an inside track as a replacement, especially among the student body.

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