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Tales of A Black Colonial: The Foggy Bottom Edition Learning to ‘be’ in an Attempt to Break Free Open Access

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Columbian College needed a name that would distinguish it from local competitors. In 1904, led by an act of U.S. Congress, the board of trustees unanimously voted to rename the institution after slave owner and first president of the United States, Colonel George Washington. Over a century later, the university has evolved into a site of active resistance; constantly battling its problematic history of occupation and enslavement with the advocacy of progressive socio political movements like Black Lives Matter, Me Too and Defend Dreamers. Despite this disturbing historical foundation, the university has chosen to embrace its current mascot, the colonial, since 1926. How does this active exploitative presence and history impact black students who enroll? What are their experiences in the classroom? Irrespective of the persistently overt commitment to diversity, inclusive excellence and transformative practice of itself and higher education, George Washington University still struggles to retain black students. Why has senior leadership failed to effectuate alternative teaching models that disrupt systemic white hegemony? This study explores how implementing decolonizing pedagogies on campus and in curricula can liberate black students’ learning experiences. The data analyzed is drawn from national and institutional data, interviews with black female master’s candidates at GSEHD and my personal reflections as a student and staff member at GW. This research also investigates how black students embody colonial-like attributes as a coping mechanism and further interrogates how the practice of freedom is experienced in the classroom. The findings suggest that there is a transformation deficit at GSEHD for black women, which is reinforced by the preeminence of whiteness as norm.

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