Naming Task Force Gives Updates, Answers Questions at Community Town Halls

Two virtual forums gave university community members a chance to ask questions and share feedback.

May 11, 2020


The George Washington University Board of Trustees Task Force on Naming is continuing its work notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic with two recent town halls and a website dedicated to collecting feedback and ideas from the university community.

The task force, which had adjusted its planned outreach by moving meetings online, held virtual town halls last Wednesday and Thursday to give the GW community the opportunity to provide feedback on the group’s task of developing principles and processes for namings and future potential renamings.

The Task Force also encourages the GW community members to submit comments online.

Mark Chichester, B.B.A. ’90, J.D. ’93, task force chair and Board of Trustees member, and André Gonzales, a student member of the task force, opened the discussions by outlining the group’s charge and updating attendees on the task force’s progress over the past few months.

Chichester noted that the task force had received many questions about their plans with respect to the names of particular buildings as well as the Colonial moniker but highlighted that the charge of the task force is to deliver suggested procedures that will direct the university’s future renaming processes to the Board of Trustees.  

“We will not consider specific requests for name changes,” Mr. Chichester said. “That is within the purview of the Board of Trustees.”

The procedures will help determine under what circumstances a request for a change of name would be considered and will provide principles to guide the Board of Trustees and university administration in making that determination.

In winter 2019, the Board of Trustees convened the Naming Task Force. Throughout the spring 2020 semester, the group met regularly to address its charge and prepare draft recommendations. The task force developed a website and planned its outreach to include town halls, focus groups, a student leader roundtable and conversation with the Faculty Senate.

“We take our charge seriously,” Mr. Chichester said. “Our aim is to provide the board and the administration with the tools they need looking across the spectrum. We want to equip the board with tools that will reasonably stand the test of time.”

During the town halls, Mr. Chichester and Mr. Gonzales answered questions submitted by the online attendees, including questions about which stakeholders would be able to participate in future renaming processes once a framework is recommended to the Board of Trustees.

Other questions raised focused on whether the Colonial moniker would be addressed in future town halls or task force endeavors as well as whether their recommendations had taken into consideration the potential namings to take place during GW’s bicentennial celebration. 

“Our job is to give the university a framework that is fact-driven, thoughtful and fair,” Mr. Chichester said.

He said the task force has learned from other institutions who have addressed similar concerns, though those schools focused on the use of an individual’s name rather than moniker issues. However, the task force has asked staff to assist in researching issues surrounding monikers and mascots to the help the group provide guidance to the Board of Trustees.

Some other attendees questioned whether the Board of Trustees should continue to prioritize its naming endeavors in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The road ahead for our institution is really difficult in terms of how to adapt to COVID,” Mr. Gonzales said. “It's more important now to talk about representation, history and renaming in tandem with this new reality. We're stuck with this situation for a while, and the best we can do is to dig ourselves into this concept of community, helping each other and making sure that every single member of our community feels proud to be here at GW and feels proud about how we are doing our work.”

Following the recent town halls, Mr. Chichester said the group will begin drafting its report, which is to be delivered to the board in late June for its consideration.