Robert Morris has been considering a change from its Colonials nickname and more for quite some time, multiple university sources told Pittsburgh Sports Now.
Conversations about the appropriateness of the Colonials nickname have dated back several years and were points of discussion back to at least when the UPMC Events Center floor was laid down in 2019, PSN has learned.
That building features a Robert Morris logo with the head of a colonial man on it in several expensive-to-replace locations, including center court of the basketball floor.
That logo has since been de-emphasized in favor of logos that feature the school’s initials and a red-and-blue star. The 2020 press release that announced that change did not list a potential nickname change as part of the rationale, but sources told PSN that was indeed the case.
Name and logo changes at the Division I college level are often difficult to pull off without years of planning in order to account for things like uniform purchase timelines, the availability of merchandise and required changes to physical structures.
In addition to the Colonials nickname, PSN has also learned that changes to the name of the university itself have also been considered. The school, which was once the Pittsburgh School of Accountancy, has been named for Robert Morris, one the financiers of the American Revolution since 1935.
Morris was involved with the slave trade for a period of several years before the revolution as part of a partnership with Philadelphia businessmen Thomas Willing. Another university in Illinois that was also named for Morris has recently changed its name due to a merger. Mount Morris, New York and Morrisville, Pennsylvania are both also named for him.
It’s not clear what the school and/or nickname might become if changes are made. It’s also not entirely clear who at this point would be making that decision. A request for comment to the athletic department was directed to a university spokesperson. Dr. Michelle Patrick has been the school’s interim president since former president Chris Howard stepped down in January to take a position at Arizona State.
Though the discussion at Robert Morris dates back several years, it was re-ignited by the decision this week by George Washington University to divest from the Colonials nickname. WTAE-TV Pittsburgh first reported the new emphasis.
GW provost Christopher Bracey said that the nickname “no longer does the work that a moniker should—namely, unifying the campus behind our academic and athletic institutional aspirations.”
The university commissioned a study that found that George Washington himself disliked the term and that many students and potential students do not view colonization in a positive light.
“For opponents, Colonials means colonizers who stole land and resources from indigenous groups, killed or exiled Native peoples and introduced slavery into the colonies,” the study group reported. “These are perspectives that cannot be easily harmonized, the committee concluded.”
Division III Western Connecticut State announced in 2020 that it was dropping the Colonials nickname and has since become the Wolves. Those two moves leave RMU as the last major American college or university to retain the name.
For now, RMU has not committed to any course of action, but has publicly acknowledged that discussions — at least regarding the nickname — are ongoing.
“Robert Morris University’s ability to transform and adapt is in large part responsible for our success as an institution over the past century,” a university statement read. “We take great pride in our students, alumni, faculty, and staff, and hope that they are proud of their association with RMU.
“We are aware that other colleges and universities have decided to drop and/or change their nicknames recently in light of negative historical connotations associated with their monikers. Given the complex nature of these issues, we, as an institution of higher learning, believe it is an appropriate time to carefully consider who we have been, who we are, and who we wish to become.”