I have previously written about my opposition to the dropping of “The Colonials” as the nickname of The George Washington University, which I teach. The university assembled a committee that seemed pre-disposed to drop the name after objections that, in my view, were historically and logically wrong. That followed an earlier panel that lacked any opposing views on the matter. Now the student editors at The Hatchet have called for the adoption of “The Hippos” as the new moniker — an option that I discussed earlier as a poor alternative (though perhaps optimal if we wanted to call ourselves “The Hippocrites“). Yet, this is deemed the best option and the editorial makes the case by again repeating a fundamental misconception of the original school nickname.
We adopted “The Colonials” in 1926. We have also used “George” a our mascot since 1948. Even the use of George Washington as an identifier is now under attack.
A Washington Post editorial recently also called for the school to drop the name of George Washington because it “falls short in addressing the main issues of systemic racism and inequality still present on campus.”
George Washington’s bust has also been vandalized by protesters.
In April 2019, a slim majority of George Washington University students voted to dump the Colonials nickname. I spoke to some students who felt that they had little notice or time to vote. Many did not take it seriously and the vote turnout was relatively low.
The editorial stated The Hippos is a better moniker because “it’s divorced from the ugly history of colonialism and racism that marked our use of Colonials.”
The editorial reflects the same views expressed in the original petition read. “The historically, negatively-charged figure of Colonials has too deep a connection to colonization and glorifies the act of systemic oppression.”
In first campaigning for the change, former Hatchet reporter Andrew Hesbacher was quoted as saying “Colonialist, terrorist, murderer. In a lot of places that’s what colonials mean to people.” Of course, that is the value of learning about the true meaning of terms. The thirteen colonies were the seedlings that grew into a new Republic. This school reflects those founding members of our nation.
The Colonials reflected our history as one of the oldest universities in the country founded at the direction of George Washington. Washington called for the establishment of a national university and left funds for our charter in in his last will and testament. President James Monroe approved the charter in 1821. It was meant to be a new university that reflected a new nation. This country was founded by colonials who forged a new vision for democratic process and individual freedoms.
By contrast, the Hippo (or Riverhorse) is a beloved but relatively recent addition. Indeed, it was something of a joke by former George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in 1996 when he presented the bronze statue as a gift to the University’s Class of 2000.
I have few illusions that such objections will have any more impact on this debate than it did over the last two years. However, the continued misrepresentation of “The Colonials” undermines the credibility of this debate and does an unfairness to those who long and proudly called themselves “The Colonials.”