Some GW Students Seek to Change ‘Negatively Charged' Colonials Nickname to Hippos, Petition Says

For 92 years, they've been known as the George Washington University Colonials -- but now, an online petition is asking to change the Colonials nickname to the Hippos.

Some on campus say "Colonials" is offensive to international students who have experienced the effects of colonialism.

"The historically, negatively-charged figure of Colonials has too deep a connection to colonization and glorifies the act of systemic oppression," says the petition on GW Voice, an online petition tool operated by the GW Student Association.

The hippo is already the unofficial mascot of the university, dating back to the 1996 arrival of a hippo statue. It's been in the center of campus, outside Lisner Auditorium, ever since. People pose for pictures with the statue and rub its nose for good luck. In the campus bookstore, hippos are well represented, but there is a lot more merchandise with the Colonials logo.

Jasmine Cannon believes the nickname should be changed.

"...I think if we're going to aim for a more diverse and inclusive environment, that we shouldn't reenact violence against marginalized students," she said.

Gillian Hand favors keeping the Colonials.

"You have to look at it as George Washington. He was a great figure... something that defines our country. So I think the hippo doesn't really define us."

Nearly 400 students had signed the petition as of 6:21 p.m. Thursday. That was the most recent count available as of Friday afternoon.

The student association president will respond if 500 signatures are collected within three months, according to the site. Only enrolled students may sign petitions on the page.

"I think that the name should be changed," said Christine Robbie. "It's definitely hurtful to a lot of people and its doesn't really benefit that many people."

Stephen Joel Tractenberg, the president emeritus of GW, bought the hippo statue during his tenure as president of the university. He said that, for fun, he made up a story that George Washington watched hippos swim in the Potomac River.

Tractenberg believes both the Colonials and the Hippos should be kept as mascots.

"I wouldn't want to abandon our historic and patriotic ties to the early history of America," he said.

The university's trustees will make the ultimate decision on whether to change the nickname.

CORRECTION (April 5, 2019, 5:02 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated that "Colonials" is the school mascot rather than the nickname. The official school mascot is George Washington.

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