George Washington University will replace the nickname of its athletic teams, dropping “Colonials” after years of pressure from students, the New York Times reported. Student critics said the current moniker has connotations of violence against Native Americans and other colonized peoples.
The potential replacements were narrowed down to four options: “Ambassadors”, “Blue Mist”, “Revolutionaries”, and “Patrols”. Note that the GWU mascot will remain George 1, the head of George Washington on a student in colonial uniform.
GWU will hear feedback through April 28 during “Moniker Madness,” said Ellen Moran, GWU’s vice president of communications and marketing. The new nickname will be announced by the end of the semester.
The “Colonials” nickname has been around since 1926, replacing “Hatchetites,” “Hatchetmen,” “Axemen” and “Crummen” — for football coach Henry Crum. In 2019, students voted to remove the nickname. And in 2020, student organizations petitioned to change the name.
“The colonials were active propagators of colonialism and participated in militarized and racialized violence, oppression and hierarchy,” the petition reads. “Colonialism has historically and simultaneously been built on the usurpation of land, labor, and autonomy from racialized communities through dehumanizing violence and suppression.”
While defenders of the moniker — particularly older alumni — have argued that it represents Americans in the British colonial era, it is historically inaccurate, said Dr. Denver Brunsman, associate professor of history, considered that George Washington and his contemporaries would have been like colonials.
“It was a term that he associated with narrow-mindedness, with a certain provincialism,” Brunsman said.
After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, efforts to remove team names and mascots based on Native American and Confederate imagery accelerated.
“The idea of colonialism by definition is something that is built on exclusivity and hierarchy, let alone racism in its most violent form,” said graduate student Hayley Margolis. “So those are the things that I didn’t think should unite a college campus, and they turned a lot of people on campus off from school spirit.”