George Washington University will replace the nickname of its athletic teams, removing “Colonials” after years of pressure from students, the New York Times reported. Student critics said the current nickname had connotations of violence toward Native Americans and other colonized people.
Potential replacements have been narrowed down to four options: “Ambassadors,” “Blue Fog,” “Revolutionaries” and “Sentinels.” To note, the GWU mascot will remain George 1, George Washington’s head on a student in colonial uniform.
GWU will hear feedback until Apr. 28 during “Moniker Madness,” said Ellen Moran, GWU vice president for communications and marketing. A new nickname will be announced by the end of the semester.
The “Colonials” nickname has been around since 1926, having replaced “Hatchetites,” “Hatchetmen,” “Axemen” and “Crummen” – for football coach Henry Crum. In 2019, students voted to remove the nickname. And in 2020, student organizations submitted a name change petition.
“Colonials were active purveyors of colonialism and were complicit in militarized and racialized violence, oppression and hierarchy,” the petition said. “Colonialism has been historically and contemporaneously built upon usurping land, labor and autonomy from racialized communities through dehumanizing violence and suppression.”
While defenders of the nickname – especially 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, given that George Washington and his contemporaries would not have identified as colonials.
“It was a term that he associated with narrow-mindedness, with a certain provincialism,” Brunsman said.
Efforts to remove team names and mascots based on Native American and Confederate imagery accelerated after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
“The idea of a colonial just by definition is something that is built on exclusivity and hierarchy, let alone racism in its most violent form,” said alumna Hayley Margolis. “So those are things that I didn’t think should unify a college campus and excluded a lot of people on the campus from school spirit.”