George Washington Students Want to Drop ‘Colonials’ Nickname
Despite the obvious connection with the university's namesake, the word does have other connotations.
As it nears its bicentennial, students at the university named after the leader of the general who won America’s independence and served as its first President want to change its mascot.
Students at George Washington University have voted to urge the removal of the Colonials name from the university’s athletic teams. A petition that led to the vote said, “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. Alternative nickname recommendations are ‘Hippos’ or ‘Inside Higher Ed, “George Washington U Debates Colonials Name”
The controversy has apparently been brewing for a while.
At first blush, it’s rather silly. The association between “George Washington” and “Colonials” is obvious and the “George the Colonial” mascot hammers the point home for the confused. Still, there’s no question that “colonial” has another connotation in different contexts.
Fran Buntman, an associate professor of sociology who will speak at the event, said she will share her experiences growing up in South Africa during Apartheid, which sanctioned racial segregation between 1948 and 1994, to educate domestic students about the real-life impact of colonialism.
She added that the term “colonialism” is often misattributed to President George Washington’s era, but Washington was an anti-Colonial who led an army of revolutionaries against British control of the 13 colonies.
“It’s always mystified me as to why GW would want to be associated with the idea of colonialism, let alone celebrate it,” Buntman said.
Buntman added that she wants to remain neutral on the topic as she speaks on the panel so students and officials can hear a solely educational perspective on the topic and form their own opinions.
“I do think I need to help them understand what a word means that they are embracing,” she said. “I think sometimes, we don’t know the history of something, and when we know that, it makes a difference to what we think about it.”
Dane Kennedy, a history and international affairs professor who will sit on the panel, said he wants to inform students about the racial connotations of colonialism, given that the word often refers to a group of white people oppressing minority groups, like Native or African Americans.The GW Hatchet, “SA senator reignites effort to change Colonials nickname”
“All I can say is that it is a term that has associations that we might not want to have GW associated with,” he said. “The past is with us. The past is useful as a way of making sense of the present.”
One could see where Native Americans would find the celebration of whites taking over their land offensive. But colonization was only tangentially related to African slavery. It does, however, carry some extremely negative connotations in Africa itself.
The relationship between either George Washington or the District of Columbia with hippos or river horses at first alluded me. Indeed, I don’t think I knew that “river horse” is the literal English translation of
No matter which way you turn it, colonialism is by definition about taking someone else’s land and driving off, killing, or exploiting the native population.
“George the Colonial” was, of course, part of that process.
What’s done is done. But you don’t have to continue to revel in it, is (I guess) what George Washington students are saying.
I think “colonial” means “inhabitant of a colony” – these not seam particularly offensive; it the name was “colonizer” or “settler”, yes, this will be offensive.
@drj: What @Miguel Madeira said, I think. When Americans refer to themselves as “Colonials,” they’re talking about our time as British subjects, not our overseas adventures. The “Colonial Period” or “Colonial Williamsburg” are about being subjects, not rulers.
In these trigger warning infused times, a student body wanting to dump a school nick-name that even remotely could offend someone is not surprising. May I suggest the GW Cherry Trees as the new name, then we can look forward to the sports page headline, XYZ Picks GW’s Cherries.
Yes, of course. But what do you think those colonials were doing under British rule?
They were taking someone else’s land and driving off or killing the native population, i.e. colonizing.
It also means a member of the very group that is taking someone else’s land and driving off, killing, or exploiting the native population.
For instance, a native American or African slave who happened to live in colonial Williamsburg is generally not considered a “colonial.”
Which means that colonials are by definition the ones doing the stealing and exploiting.
As I said before, what’s done is done. But even so, this might not be something to revel in.
The renaming thing is a hard one. I think there are obvious cases, like the Redskins. Redskin was never anything but an insult and a degradation. My high school mascot was the Redskins but they changed it to Red Hawks 25 years ago or so. Because the administration consisted of mature adults whose focus was on educating young men and women and not a bunch of doofus sports nuts.
And sometimes the naming was done in innocence, but history has overwhelmed it. I once met a delightful elderly woman whose first name was bright and hopeful… in 1915 when she was born: Gay. And she married a gentleman whose last name was “Love”. I’m sure when she took his name she was delighted. But, fair or not, there is no way someone in 1997 (when I met her) wouldn’t be startled by that name.
And sometimes things have dueling histories. When I lived in Shanghai every time I walked across the street to my local coffee shop (Wagas on Jiao Zhou Lu) I trod on swastikas etched into the granite walkway at the entrance to the building. My neighborhood was defined by the Jing An Buddhist Temple that sat in the center, and we in the US are usually unaware the swastika is thousands of years old and the Nazis took it up as part of their bizarre mysticism. Think “Raiders of the Lost Ark” type of mythology. And although the Chinese suffered as much as anyone in what we call WWII (at the hands of the Japanese), they are right to resist any attempts to repudiate the symbol.
And I guess this GW Colonial thing falls a little bit into that last category, although complicated by the fact that while the European settlers saw themselves as victims of a colonial power, indigenous people saw them, rightly, as oppressive and genocidal colonizers themselves.
I guess in the end I have an American’s “clean slate” perspective on this. In the case of an educational institution I’m in favor of erring on the side of renaming buildings and teams and what have you. It forces the students, faculty and administration to decide what they value and who and what they honor. And that in and of itself is a worthy exercise.
As Belgium tells Congo all the damn time, but somehow it never sinks in. I wonder why?
Colonization is a total dick move to whoever lives there.
I agree in the GWU case that this is a reach, but they are the students there and have more right than anyone else to determine their own name.
So, are you saying that students should vote on the name every year?
What’s the harm?
African slavery was a result of the devastation of natives in the lands the Europeans conquered in the Americas. Remember these lands were mined and farmed, and this requires labor. Without much of a native population left, slaves were imported from Africa. That’s rather direct.
As to Africa, after losing their empires in the Americas, many European nations turned to Africa, then a passel of independent states and kingdoms, and “colonized” them. Meaning they were conquered, forced to admit their new overlords, and put to work on mining and farming.
BTW, this also happened in Asia.
I won’t tell you WWI and WWII were a result of colonization, but WWI was influenced by it, or rather by Germany’s lack of overseas colonies compared to France and Great Britain. And Japan was building its own colonial empire in Asia.
And don’t forget the US involvement in Vietnam started because France wanted to keep her colonies in Indochina after WWII. Or that the mess colonization left in Africa hasn’t been cleaned up fully yet.
Meh. Students are transients. Most are gone in four years. It’s the faculty and alumni who are the foundation of a university.
Most often, the uni/college nickname applies to sports teams and alumni publications with a punny name.
Unless their sports teams are top 25 nationally ranked, no one cares if they’re called The Colonials or The Sporty McSportsBallers. And this is GWU – no outside person cares about GWU football or swimming.
The faculty would be anywhere elsewhere if they got a promotion and a salary bump, and the alumni are coasting on imaginary past glories.
@de stijl: Well, maybe. But they’re the lifeblood of a school. Faculty are what build its reputation and alumni contribute money to endow capital funds, scholarships, and the rest.
I think students should have input, but for the most part they are just passing through. I wouldn’t be a fan of a bunch of 18-21 year olds taking a vote every year to rename the buildings. I could see “Post Malone Memorial Library” and “Bye, Felicia Engineering Building” taking over from the four year old “Taylor Swift Memorial Library” and “Hooverboards 43ver Engineering Building”.
[Edit, I see James beat me to this}
Without current students, universities would have to cease operations. Faculty are overhead, and alumni are essentially meaningless unless they give to the endowment fund.
I would proudly honor my degree from University of McCollegeFace if I got to attend the school of Bye, Felicia Engineering. That’d be awesome!
[Edit, I see James beat me to this}
Why would you glom on to a poorly thought through take?
At the risk of getting myself branded as an apologist, “Colonialism” refers exclusively to the European episodes of conquering foreign lands and exploiting the people and resources. It is inevitable and right that all people reflect upon and judge our ancestors in light of our own moral structure. But we should understand that this is a human phenomena, not only a European one. The Incas and Aztecs brutally exploited the peoples around them, committing genocide on a massive scale. The Japanese invaded China and committed unspeakable atrocities. The Mongols conquered foreign lands and killed the populace of entire towns and villages for sport, delighting in finding the most horrific ways possible. The Akan empire conquered it’s way to the Atlantic, displacing and enslaving all other tribes in its way. (A piece of history Europeans normally leave out of the story of the West African slave trade is that very, very few of the slaves were captured by Europeans. Rather they were captured by competing tribes and sold to the white slave traders along the coast.) And Lewis and Clark learned of epic wars for territory and resources fought by the various indigenous groups they met along the way, with nothing to do with Europeans.
As a person of European descent I should reflect long and hard on the depravities and atrocities committed by our ancestors and the privileges we enjoy because of that, and how it squares with the moral structure we purport to live by. But it diminishes the agency of all other peoples to think that only Europeans are capable of being aggressors, and all others can only be victims.
I withdraw my endorsement of The Bye, Felicia School of Engineering. It’s a very dated reference. It’s from 1995.
Still, cool AF – maybe it’d be grandfathered in from a previous class re-naming.
Aren’t the alumni made up entirely of those transient students who are gone in 4(+) years?
I think a university would have problems operating without faculty as well. Unless, I suppose, all the education is student-led?
In any case, I’m also not convinced that the 18-21 year-old demographic has a decent perspective on life yet. They’ve got some energy and ideas, but not all of those ideas pan out.
I think people get to decide for themselves if they are offended by something I did. I’m pretty sure that I’m not offended by much of anything I do, but sometimes other people are. Sometimes I have taken the stance of “well, I don’t really care, I’m going to keep doing it” and this might be related to “I think you have your facts wrong”. But often, even when I’m quite sure the offended party has their facts wrong, I modify my behavior anyway, to maintain the relationship.
So I think it’s less about who’s right and who’s wrong about what “colonial” means, and more about who is bothered by it, and what kind of relationship you want to have with them.
@James Joyner: And yet, if the students stop coming, it all sorta becomes pointless, doesn’t it? (I get it; and go ahead and revel in your “ownership of the institution” if you must, but…)
@Kit: Suits me. But I don’t got a dog in school mascot fights; not gonna buy one so I can join, either.
Schools exist to educate students. Full stop.
A school with amazing faculty and no students is pointless.
GWU is a good school and students will compete to get there. There will not be an enrollment death-spiral. But whatever they decide to call their sportsball teams is meaningless short-term and long. I get that you are a traditionalist. Sometimes it’s okay to let go.
“The Colonials” is a stupid hill to defend.
I can certainly understand some of the problems concerning “colonials”. After the war we were no longer colonies. The United States has not been a colonial empire by any stretch of the definition. Some territories and protectorates, but not colonies by the historical criteria. This is not the only team that has used this name. I think that a Kentucky team had it.
But this thing of complaining and finding fault with every team name, street name, building name, or statues has gotten out of hand: political correctness gone to seed (Woodrow Wilson building renamed – preposterous. Grant is on a lot of things, yet no one has complained, yet). Often these students who run around demanding this and that are often surprised later about the context and histories after they have done a little research or studies. But at least the students at George Mason have gone about this peacefully instead of tearing up property on tax supported universities such has happened at UNC and other campuses.
I have noticed, and some of you may have, that no matter what the teams are named someone will complain. Another case of can’t win for losing. Animal names have come under fire from some animal rights people. So what do you do? Name the teams for colors? Well, that has worked okay in baseball, but kind of boring.
Here are my ideas:
Patriots, Flintlocks, Minutemen, Continentals, Horsemen, Militia Riders, Rebels (I know the south used that some, but that is what the British called us), Copperheads, Boars, Muskrats (that is my animal list)
Hippos? (I don’t know – too slow).
As far as renaming every year, that can be costly.
If I was a student there I would be demanding a better basketball program. No reason they can’t make it to the sweet sixteen. They do that and the students won’t even notice the name.
Since I live in a city with one of America’s great research universities, I know a lot of people who would take issue with your “full stop.”
Since I live in a city with a university that officially retired (dumped) its native American mascot (um, honored symbol) over a decade ago, I can tell you these battles never end, and those exited alums cannot seem to remember that the university is here for any other purpose than to implement their preferences to reinstate / completely outlaw that symbol. It is exhausting.
This is true. But it was the Europeans who gave the issue a global scope, and it is the order they made under which we live in today. Had it been someone else, we’d be blaming someone else. For a while, the Chinese were very actively in trading and diplomacy all over the Indian Ocean as far as Africa, but then stopped.
Had they not stopped, they might have contested Europe’s takeover of lands in Asia. History would look very different without a Dutch or British East India Company. Paradoxically, it might have spurred an even heavier European presence in the Americas.
BTW, Spain found the Americas first because Columbus was an obstinate jerk. Had a Western continent not existed, his expedition would have starved or died of thirst midway on their way to Asia.
Had he not been financed by bankers and royalty on his trip, the Portuguese would eventually have stumbled onto Brazil as they swung out from Africa on their way to round the southern tip of Africa on their way to Asia.
@Tyrell: While I think the whole “re examine and rename, learning process” is a precious touchy-feely load of bollocks, Continentals would actually seem to be a better choice in re Washington than Colonials in fact.
Else they could always go for Provincials…
Your hometown touchstone is touching, I’m sure.
But if they solely rested on their laurels and stopped educating new students, they would die as would their reputation.
Even land-grant research universities cannot exist without students. It’s baked in to economics of the enterprise. Why is this contentious?
No, it really isn’t. The issues should be obvious. Would you be similarly blasé if their teams were the Conquistadors?
Frankly, I’m surprised we still have an Amherst College. They did at least stop calling their teams the Lord Jeffs…
I don’t disagree that education is a primary purpose and goal of a land grant research university. It’s just not a “full stop.”
GW exists to create new congressional interns and new support staff for lobby shops both boutique and retail. Literally no one cares what their sportsball team nickname is.
It’s odd that one of our premiere educational institutions exists to pump out students who are obviously over-qualified and over-credentialed for poorly-compensated jobs that basically involve fetching.
Forget “The Colonials”, GW’s biggest shame is that they basically educate interns.
Could a university pursue research without paying students?
You’d think today’s universities would be getting more money from tuition backed by student loans, right?
Asimov spent a good portion of his memoir, “I, Asimov,” detailing his fight with the officials at Boston University, where he taught biochemistry. He was widely regarded as a top lecturer, and in this period in the 50s he published tons of science popularizations. But he conducted little or no research, and brought in little or no grant money.
So if it’s a question of money, you’d think students, and their attached tuition, would rank higher now.
Some rando in ~1879 had a bright idea and declared that the SportsBall team he was in should the called “The Colonials” for unknown reasons and the school newspaper just went with it because team spirit and mostly because it was shorter than “the George Washington University Sportsball team that does this sport”. So it became a thing. And now we’re “debating” it.
I’m kinda flummoxed.
@Lounsbury: Thanks for that.
Apologies for putting “George Mason” U. I am forever confusing those schools. Long, late game last night.
Faculty may be more transient than the students.
Not all congressional interns are trust fund kids. but most are. Mom and Dad paid for Tulane or Duke (or GW), and are paying your rent and grocery money now.
This is bad. Very, very bad. People who need to work for a living literally cannot afford to be unpaid interns. And this has always been. So senior congressional staff today were the unpaid interns 20 years ago who made it through the career bottlenecks. It’s stupid and we get a warped sample so we get bad results. And it self-perpetuates.
FFS, I’m not saying that universities don’t do research. And that that isn’t a good thing. Fuck me!
Do universities need income to pursue research? Yes or no?
Where does that income come from?
Not always. This began in earnest in the 90s, as a cost-cutting measure to reduce the deficit (yeah, right). I’m sure it worked as well at doing that, as rearranging the deck chairs in the Titanic kept the ship from sinking.
Prior to that Congressional interns in DC were paid.
They are part of the illegal drug trade ruled by the Queen of England.
The Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires are forcing our parents to go to bed early in a fiendish plot to eliminate the meal of dinner.
I am not sure why we are arguing, de stijl. Maybe we differ on the meaning of “full stop.”
The research is paid for in part by student tuition and is done largely by students, some of whom are paying and some of whom are being paid. Another large part of the funding comes from grants, either from the federal government or the industries benefiting from the research. I have several friends who have endowed chairs, meaning a large part of their salaries come from private sources other than tuition and I have other friends part of whose jobs are to attract research funding.
Students are critical to research universities as they are to anyplace whose mission includes education. But there is a lot more going on here than students buying an education from teachers.
I didn’t know that. Thank you. You have been the only enlightening thing on this thread.
Apparently, people get very defensive when there is a possibility that a sportsball team name might change.
I said Why not? and What’s the harm? hours ago. I did not foresee this being so spiky and folks trotting out this many tangentials.
You’re welcome. I learned of it recently in a Freakonomics podcast episode.
That mascot is as terrifying as the Burger King King.
I’m not sure if that makes me more or less in favor of anything at all that replaces that monstrosity. Look at that picture. He is a thing of nightmares, and he wants a hug all at once.
The Georgetown Stranger Danger.
@DrDaveT: I dunno whether Conquistadors stirs up passions or not, but if you’re curious, you can ask the students at Dodge City Community College (in Kansas, of all places), Pasco Hernando State College, or Florida National University. All Conquistadors.
Not being from the East coast, the first thing I think of when I hear “colonials” is Battlestar Galactica. Maybe GWU could adopt BSG iconography and everyone would be happy? We might have to change George Washington University to William Adama University though.
@de stijl: Say what you will, at least they’re not charging $35k/year to produce teachers–no education major.
@de stijl: Actually, most research money comes from government (used to be mostly DOD, but that may have changed) and grants–corporate and foundational. Very little comes from tuition, particularly at land grant schools, which are at least partially subsidized still.
He seems to be mad as hell, and giving the Lilly Aldrin “you’re dead to me” look. Kinda like the Patriots’ mascot, come to think of it.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
An “actually…” guy. Aah… fuck me!…
God fucking damnit, this never ends.
Actually, try to get a grant when you work at a university with zero students.
Actually… jesus crikey moses, why did I engage with Joyner at all?
@de stijl: What’s the harm? Some years ago the local school board in a brainstorm of wisdom decided to change my old high school’s mascot (without consulting the students, parents, booster club, or alumnus including me). It had something to do with the Native American mascot the school had since the 1940’s. This resulted with my school adopting some sort of bird as the new mascot. And the taxpayers got stuck with an expense of about $20,000 for the changes required: redesign scoreboard, repaint the gym colors, new school sign, football uniforms were unusable and new ones had to be ordered, and the various other things that had to be done to change over. All because of a misguided school board. I think most got voted out in the next election. I still have some shirts with the old mascot on them and when I go to some of the games I wear them as many other fans do.
Good call. Totally does.
The worst mascot extant might be the Vanderbilt “Colonel” (who kinda looks like the above mentioned). It’s not a bad image; it’s anodyne. But the whole concept is creepy. I would welcome a discussion that a Colonel from Tennessee is not a veiled Confederacy poke in our national eye.
What was the old team name?
Still, this entire back-and-forth is silly, since the opposite of your sentence is also true.
(I hit post too quickly).
Clearly, a university as an institution is combination of the current student, the alumni, the faculty, and even administration. It all sums together. It is past, present, and future, and it is impossible to boil down to a specific set of actors.
A legit point as well.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
Thank you, that is informative. Horrifying, but informative.
I can only suppose they play against the Central Valley Inquisitors and the Green Spring Genocides…
There are several Southern universities with Confederate mascots but Vandy is not among them. The Vanderbilt mascot is a Commodore, named after school founder Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt. He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for donating his ship to the U.S. Navy in the aftermath of the famous battle of ironclads.
There are a few Southern schools with “Colonel” mascots, including Nichols State and Eastern Kentucky, but they’re not all that prominent. Ole Miss used to have a “Colonel Reb,” but they finally dispensed with it, along with the playing of “Dixie” as a fight song. But not with their “Rebels” nickname, which is obviously also Confederate-themed.
@de stijl: My situation may be different, but most of the academics I’ve met who got grants got them independent of the schools they were working at. Some of them used the grants to move to schools they wanted to work for more. You might be surprised at how much bringing a few hundred thou to millions will do to create a “need” to expand some department or another.
Still, I see and agree with your point about schools and students and relative importance. And to soothe your delicate esthetic, I will try to avoid using “actually” in posts (in real life, I’ll probably forget, but wanted to include the snark).