News & Politics

The Namesake of George Washington University’s Student Center Was a Huge Racist. The School Just Shared Historic Materials to Show It.

Photograph by Andrew Beaujon.

A George Washington University committee charged with evaluating a name change to the school’s Cloyd Heck Marvin Center has shared a selection of the historical materials it’s examining while doing its work.

Marvin was GW’s president for more than three decades and more than anyone was responsible for thwarting desegregation at the university.

The materials range in impact from illuminating (a 1971 Hatchet article about students walking out of the center’s dedication ceremony) to revolting (a 1954 letter from Marvin where he assures the recipient not too worry too much about the university’s grudging decision to admit Black people: “I think our standards of admission and the high expectancy of our classroom work will deter many”) to what I believe the appropriate term for is holy freaking crap (a letter from the Ballston chapter of the Ku Klux Klan praising Marvin for rescinding the admission of a left-wing student).

The group says it hasn’t reached a conclusion on whether it will recommend the Marvin Center be renamed. It states its criteria as:

  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

The committee held three virtual town halls last month and encourages members of its community to share feedback.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.