GW Community Offers Opinions on Marvin Center Name

During two virtual town hall events, members of the GW community shared thoughts with the Special Naming Committee on the campus center’s name.

September 21, 2020

marvin center signage

The George Washington University community gave feedback on the request for reconsideration of the Marvin Center name during two virtual town hall events last week. (The final virtual town hall will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.)

The campus center is named after former GW President Cloyd Heck Marvin, the longest-serving president of the university whose tenure lasted from 1922 to 1959.

The Special Committee on the Marvin Center Name was established in July following the Board of Trustees’ approval of the objectives and guiding principles for all university renaming requests.

"The task of the special committee is to research and evaluate the merits of a request for reconsideration of a name,” said Roger Fairfax, committee chair and Patricia Roberts Harris Research Professor of Law in the GW Law School. “The deliverable is for that special committee to answer the question: Is there a compelling case for renaming?"

The committee has been meeting regularly throughout the summer to gather and discuss historical sources and scholarly writings surrounding Dr. Marvin’s tenure as university president. The committee also continues to review community feedback submitted through its website and email.

The committee is charged with using the six key renaming considerations approved by the Board to shape its final report:

  1. The prevalence and persistence of the namesake’s repugnant behavior.
  2. The harm caused by the namesake’s behavior.
  3. The strength and clarity of the historical evidence.
  4. The namesake’s relationship to the university.
  5. The university’s earlier consideration of the appropriateness of the name
  6. The opportunity for education

During the virtual town hall events, Mr. Fairfax asked attendees for feedback surrounding these considerations to aid the committee in crafting a thorough report.

"You are key to this,” Mr. Fairfax said. “Your feedback, your thoughts and your insights will figure prominently into our thinking and our work product."

A faculty member commented during one town hall event to acknowledge that the issue of renaming a building is not “cut and dry,” but the difference with the Marvin Center is a matter of choice. Students can choose to live in a different residence hall if they are uncomfortable with or offended by the history of that building’s namesake, the faculty member said, but because the Marvin Center serves as a student union with a number of key university services housed there, the choice is much more limited.

Others, including current students, voiced support for changing the name through comments in the virtual chat, and said that GW’s student center should be a welcoming place for all.

A staff member cited a Washington Post article from Dr. Marvin’s time as GW’s president that highlighted Dr. Marvin’s racial exclusion as “repugnant” even in a time when segregation was more commonplace. The staff member said that this should magnify the impact of Dr. Marvin’s behavior and serve as a key consideration for the committee.

“Just like the Confederate monuments here, the presence of such oppression and racism stands as a symbol that has often been used intentionally to oppress Black people," the staff member said. "While I think that may not have been the intent at the time, I have to think that it does impact young people today who are seeking to find their way in this institution."

Another faculty member voiced support for renaming the Marvin Center and said it would be good to also develop signage around why the name was changed, so that future members of the community can appreciate what GW is doing now.

"I feel like in these moments that we're living in with broad reckoning with so many of the structural inequities that our society perpetuates, it's really heartening to know that GW is taking an opportunity like this to make change," the faculty member said.

The final town hall on the Marvin Center renaming is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22. The committee is still seeking feedback at this stage of the process, Mr. Fairfax said, and while there is no deadline for the committee to complete its work, the group recognizes the importance of resolving this issue in a timely fashion.

The next step for the committee will be to compile a report focused on those six key considerations that they will present to President Thomas LeBlanc, Mr. Fairfax said. What happens after that will depend upon the committee’s conclusion in that report. If a compelling case for renaming is found, the president will consult with the chair of the Board of Trustees, in whose discretion it shall be whether and when to submit the request for decision to the Board of Trustees. The Board may then accept, deny or modify the recommendation.