A group of George Washington (GW) University student leaders have launched an effort to examine and decide if campus buildings named after individuals with prejudicial pasts are being honored.
Supported by the student association, one of its senators will create a 10-student task force, effective this month, to review the buildings whose namesakes held bigoted beliefs.
For example, the university’s student center, the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center, is named for the school’s longest serving president, from 1927 to 1959. In 2005, then-student Andrew Novak, in the student newspaper The GW Hatchet, called for GW to rename the building.
“Marvin’s tacit support of segregation, his attempt to kick Hillel off campus and his constant manipulation of the Board of Trustees caused many to resent his heavy-handed policies,” Novak wrote. “In 1946, Marvin attempted to expel a student who protested outside of Lisner Auditorium on opening night because the student opposed Lisner’s whites-only racial policy.”
He added, “Marvin’s persecution of liberals among the faculty, his well-documented support of segregation and his constant disregard for the civil liberties of students make his legacy one that should not be memorialized on so prominent a building as this one.”
Task force leader and student association senator Imani Ross echoed Novak’s sentiment.
“He was actively discriminatory against students of color, political organizations on campus and even religious organizations,” Ross told The Hatchet. “It’s not representative of the communities that come together in the Marvin Center and do great work.”
Ross nor her committee colleague Jan Yonan responded to a Red Alert request for comment.
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar told the student publication that the university has been aware of opposition towards whom the student center is named after. She said, “There are many ways that universities come to terms with their history, and we are open to discussions and ideas about how best to understand and recognize the totality of the Marvin legacy.”
GW senior Scotty Dolgov has a reserved attitude about these developments. “On the periphery it sounds petty, but if there are enough indigenous people that feel that way it should at least be considered,” he told Red Alert.
Simultaneously, Dolgov questions the motivations of the committee. “This seems like a ploy for a resume,” he said. “It’s like they think can read the mind of a dead man.”
Campus groups like the Jewish Student Association (JSA,) which works with Hillel, are backing the initiative.
“The JSA has been approached by Imani regarding the task force and we are interested in joining their efforts,” a JSA board member, who requested to remain anonymous, told Red Alert.
The board member added that the Jewish student group is awaiting specific information before officially deciding to join the task force, like who is on the committee, its end goal, and what the JSA’s involvement would entail.
GW is not the only university whose students want their school to acknowledge discriminatory figures in their school’s dark history.
For instance, two years ago, Princeton University students protested the name of the school’s International Affairs building, named after Woodrow Wilson, who served as president of the university before becoming the 28th U.S. President (Princeton rejected the students’ request).
No word yet if GW will be renamed altogether, considering the nation’s first president was a slaveholder.