George Washington University is the latest institution to change the nickname of its sports team, dropping the 86-year-old moniker ‘Colonials’ as soon as they come up with a replacement.
The DC-based private university is dropping its ‘Colonials’ moniker because ‘it can no longer serve its purpose as a name that unifies,’ the school announced Wednesday.
This is despite a survey of 7,300 students that suggested feelings were not particularly strong either way. Only 44 percent responded they wanted to ditch Colonials, while 43 percent said it should stay.
The special committee formed to study the name found that the name ‘arose casually and haphazardly, lacking thoughtful university-wide consideration.’
President Mark S. Wrighton, however, said he agreed with the move and said their research concluded it was the correct choice.
George Washington University is the latest institution to change the nickname of its sports team, dropping the 86-year-old moniker ‘Colonials’ as soon as they come up with a replacement
President Mark S. Wrighton (pictured) said he agreed with the move and said their research concluded it was the correct choice
A special committee looked into the name’s history and delivered a report to the school president in March 2021, which the school has used since 1926
‘As we embark on our third century, we must continue to lead with our values, strengths and the diversity of the George Washington University community,’ he said.
‘While some may disagree with the outcome, this process has determined that changing the moniker is the right decision for our university.’
Not only do the sports teams use the name, but the university’s medical facility is the Colonial Health Center and meals and laundry are paid for in Colonial Cash.
GW will keep using ‘Colonials’ until a new name is introduced. That is expected by the 2023-24 academic year.
The school has largely gone away from using the Colonials moniker publicly in recent rebrands, preferring a large-scale, bold ‘GW’ and merely using the name George Washington on uniforms and a mascot that resembles the first president.
The school has largely gone away from using the Colonials moniker publicly in recent rebrands, preferring a large-scale, bold ‘GW’
The George Washington Colonials mascot performs in the second half against the Massachusetts Minutemen during the Second Round of the 2022 Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Tournament
‘A moniker must unify our community, draw people together and serve as a source of pride,’ said Grace Speights, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees. ‘We look forward to the next steps in an inclusive process to identify a moniker that fulfills this aspiration.’
A special committee looked into the name’s history and delivered a report to the school president in March 2021, which the school has used since 1926.
The school similarly formed a committee at that time to look into changing the name of its Cloyd Heck Marvin Student Center, named for a former university president who advocated for segregation.
The building was given the more generic University Student Center name in June 2021.
According to an online statement from the university, that committee determined that supporters of ‘Colonials’ view it as referring to ‘those who lived in the American colonies, especially those who fought for independence and democracy,’ while opponents see the term as referring to ‘colonizers who stole land and resources from indigenous groups, killed or exiled Native peoples and introduced slavery into the colonies.’
The team competes in most sports in the Atlantic-10 conference, including in men’s basketball
Students walk past a statue of George Washington on campus at George Washington University
The university said Wednesday that a ‘broad community engagement process’ will help to decide the new name.
The school’s teams compete in the Atlantic-10 Conference, where they compete against rivals such as the George Mason Patriots, the Massachusetts Minutemen and the La Salle Explorers, as well as three schools with the same nickname, the Fordham, Virginia Commonwealth and Rhode Island Rams.
Within the conference, there have been multiple name and logo changes. Rivals St. Bonaventure dropped the nickname ‘Brown Indians’ in 1992.
George Washington is the lasted Washington DC-based team to change it’s name.
In the 1990s, the Washington Bullets became known as the Washington Wizards. More recently and more infamously, the Washington football team changed its name from Redskins to Commanders.
What’s in a name? Sports team and logos change to avoid offending
The Washington Commanders aren’t the only pro or college sports to change its name recently under pressure from Native American groups or other social justice organizations:
A young Indians fan in the stands holds up a foam Chief Wahoo and a Slider doll during the fifth inning of the Major League Baseball game between the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians on August 8, 2018, at Progressive Field in Cleveland
- Nebraska Cornhuskers logo (NCAA, 2022): Just announced yesterday , the Big Ten school altered its ‘Herbie Husker’ mascot to no longer make the ‘OK’ symbol, which has become associated with white supremacy
- Cleveland Indians to Cleveland Guardians (MLB, 2021): After retiring their Chief Wahoo logo, the American League franchise did away with the name permanently ahead of the 2022 season
- North Dakota Fighting Sioux to North Dakota Fighting Hawks (NCAA, 2015): The nickname was retired in 2012, but the state of North Dakota passed a law prohibiting the university from adopting a new nickname until January 2015
- Arkansas State Indians to Arkansas State Red Wolves (NCAA, 2008): One of the first team names to change in response to the NCAA’s 2005 ban on ethnically or racially derogatory mascots at championship events
- University of Illinois Fighting Illini (NCAA, 2007): While the state university kept their old name, they retired the Native American mascot Chief Illiniwek and said that the team’s name now refers to denizens of the state
Staff members put up Cleveland Guardians signage at Progressive Field on November 19, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cleveland Indians officially changed their name to the Cleveland Guardians in November