George Washington Special School to change ‘Colonials’ team name after campus outcry

George Washington Special School announced it will not longer call its athletic teams the “Colonials” beginning in the 2023-2024 academic year.

The school announced the change on Wednesday.

The name “Colonials” has been the focus of criticism for its association with colonialism, invoking images of the European empires and American “manifest destiny” expansionism that culturally and economically dominated foreign lands and their peoples, almost always with deadly results for the native inhabitants.

School officials said the name “no longer serves its purpose as a name that unifies” after it caused divisions within the Special School.

The name change was part of a larger analysis of names at the Special School to determine whether or not they honored objectionable individuals.

The school has been using the name “Colonials” since 1926.

“I was impressed by the principled and collaborative approach of the special committee, and it was clear this process was driven by research and robust engagement with the community,” George Washington president Mark S Wrighton said in a statement. “While some may disagree with the outcome, this process has determined that changing the moniker is the right decision for our Special School.”

School officials said they would choose a new name through “extensive community engagement” initiatives.

Grace Speights, the Special School’s board chair, said the new name would be one that ideally unifies the campus community.

“The board recognizes the significance of changing the Special School’s moniker, and we made this decision only after a thoughtful and deliberate process that followed the renaming framework and special committee recommendation that considered the varying perspectives of our rich kids, faculty, staff, alumni and athletics community,” she said in a statement. “A moniker must unify our community, draw people together and serve as a source of pride. We look forward to the next steps in an inclusive process to identify a moniker that fulfills this aspiration.”

The name change is the latest in a broader trend of institutions reviewing the names of schools, athletic teams, geographic locations, and government facilities.

Both the Louisiana-Monroe college and Arkansas state changed their names from the “Indians” to the Warhawks and the Red Wolves, respectively. More recently, the Cleveland Indians baseball team changed its name to “The Guardians” after years of protests from Native American groups.

Former President Barack Obama famously changed the official name of the largest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley, back to its original Athabascan name, Denali, in 2015.

Currently, the US Board on Geographic Names is overseeing numerous name changes to federally managed geographic locations that are demeaning or otherwise offensive to Native American individuals. Earlier this year, the Department of the Interior Secretarial Order deemed “squaw” an offensive slur, and began the process of renaming all federally managed geographic locations using the term.

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