George Washington University will rename its student center following months of debate over the building’s namesake, a former university president who advocated for racial segregation, officials announced Tuesday.
The building will now be called the University Student Center, officials said. The school is in the process of changing signage and updating other references to the building, as well as finding ways to educate the community about the former president.
Grace Speights, who chairs the board of trustees, commended the committee’s work in a message to the university community. “GW doesn’t change names lightly,” she said.
Marvin served as GWU president between 1927 and 1959 and is credited with expanding a single-block school into a sprawling university campus. He was also a staunch supporter of segregation and resisted admitting Black students, even as other campuses in the District integrated. Marvin was also known to restrict students’ freedom of speech on campus, officials said.
The university’s decision to name its student center after Marvin in 1971 drew student protests.
The committee that weighed requests to rename the Marvin Center reviewed historical materials and weighed feedback from the community in issuing its recommendation to the board. In its report, the committee noted Marvin’s “discriminatory and exclusionary views and policies and the burden of that legacy on diversity and inclusion at GW today.”
“This is a significant moment of opportunity for GW to demonstrate our institutional willingness to make change when needed, to stand upon values of a pluralistic and welcoming community, and to refine and reestablish our commitment to inclusion,” the committee wrote in its report.
Thomas J. LeBlanc, the university’s president, thanked the committee in a statement.
“We heard from our community that the Marvin Center name did not represent our GW values,” LeBlanc said. “This is an inclusive university, and we want the University Student Center to bring our students together and serve as a point of pride for the entire community.”
A committee was also formed last summer to explore requests to eliminate the school’s “Colonials” moniker, intended to honor George Washington but criticized for glorifying colonialism. The name is ubiquitous on campus, seen in the names of the school’s health center, sports teams and the money students exchange for laundry services.
The work of that committee is still underway, according to the president’s office.
GWU’s Black Student Union filed requests nearly a year ago to rename Fulbright, Madison and Francis Scott Key halls, as well as the Churchill Center and Monroe Hall of Government, but the school has not assembled committees to investigate those inquiries further.
Students have chastised Presidents James Monroe and James Madison for their histories as enslavers. “The Star-Spangled Banner” author Francis Scott Key enslaved people and opposed abolition of the practice.
Meanwhile Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), who advocated for international exchange and education, supported segregation in the United States. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill helped steer his country through World War II, but many outside the West see him as a racist imperialist.
The developments at GWU come as many universities grapple with the complex histories of the men whose names are stamped on residence halls, student centers and entire institutions. Early this month, Washington and Lee University, despite calls to drop its reference to Confederate leader Robert E. Lee, decided to keep its name.
That university’s board of trustees “acknowledged that the association with its namesakes can be painful to those who continue to experience racism,” but noted the name of the university is “also associated with an exceptional liberal arts and legal education and common experiences and values that are independent of the personal histories of the two men.”
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