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A Mississippi university tries again to drop ‘Women’ from its name

JACKSON, Miss. — Leaders of Mississippi University for Women made a new proposal Tuesday to shed the school’s gender-specific name in a way they hope will be accepted by alumni who fondly call their alma mater “The W.”

The public institution would become Wynbridge State University of Mississippi and would still market itself as “The W,” if legislators approve the plan. The name change would happen July 1.

It’s the second time this year that MUW leaders have rolled out an idea for renaming the university in Columbus. MUW has also enrolled men since 1982, and about about 22% of the current 2,230 students are male.

But university leaders say having “women” in the name complicates the recruiting process.

A backlash by alumni caused the university to backtrack from a proposed new name that was unveiled in January, Mississippi Brightwell University.

“We are grateful to our alumni and friends of the university for reminding us that our identity as ‘The W’ has both an enduring legacy and the flexibility to carry our institution into the future,” the university’s president, Nora Miller, said in a news release Tuesday. “By enshrining our commitment to ‘The W’ in the law, we promise our community that graduates past, present and future will remain united.”

In 2022, Miller announced a university a task force to examine a name change, months after the university’s Deans Council sent her a letter saying the current name presents “challenges.”

Amanda Clay Powers, the university’s dean of library services and co-chair of the naming task force, said Tuesday that Wynbridge “creatively pairs the Old English word for ‘W,’ using it as a ‘bridge’ that connects past, present and future W graduates.”

“With our commitment to keeping ‘The W,’ we feel this is the perfect name for the university that looks back at our illustrious past as the first publicly supported university for women, keeping our tradition of looking forward into the future,” Powers said in the university’s news release.

Previous attempts to remove “women” from the name, including the most recent one in 2009, have brought strong backlash from alumni.

The president of MUW in 2009, Claudia Limbert, proposed changing the name to Reneau University to honor Sallie Reneau, who wrote to the Mississippi governor in the mid-19th century to propose a public college for women. That renaming effort fizzled amid opposition from outspoken graduates.

The school was chartered in 1884 as Industrial Institute and College and was on the campus of an existing private school, Columbus Female Institute. The original mission of the college was to provide higher education and vocational training for women.

In 1920, the name changed to Mississippi State College for Women, and in 1974 it became Mississippi University for Women.

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