The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

MUW’s ‘Wynbridge’ name change fails under alumni pressure

Ivy Rose Ball
Mississippi University for Women plans to continue branding itself as “The W.”

The Mississippi University for Women, commonly known as “The W,” announced last Wednesday in a letter to alumni, faculty and students that it will keep its current name until the next legislative session after two failed name proposals this year.

MUW President and alumna Nora Miller wrote that alumni felt an unanticipated amount of frustration and uncertainty about the process. Miller said Friday that there was evidence suggesting that the bill to change The W’s name to “Wynbridge State University for Women” would not make it through the Mississippi legislature this year.

Miller said the university is still committed to a name change and will try again in the next legislative session which will begin Jan. 2025. In their next attempt, MUW will be committed to communication and transparency with alumni and others in the MUW community, after stating that they originally underestimated how invested alumni would be in the process. 

“I also acknowledge that we have heard and listened to alumni whose passionate love for the university urged a pause in the process and the need to expand communication channels and broader involvement of the alumni family as we move ahead,” Miller said. 

In May 2022, President Miller received a letter signed by the university’s deans stating their desire to work towards a new name, not only to be more inclusive but to help admissions in preparation for a predicted decline in enrollment. Miller said she knew that The W needed a name change, but that she wanted it to start with students and faculty.

According to Miller, having “for women” in the name of the university has been a stumbling block in the admissions process, despite efforts to inform prospective students about the university’s co-ed status. Miller said that The W has always been and will continue to be about providing opportunities to an underserved population, which at the time of its charter was women but has since evolved. 

“We have to spend so much of our time saying what we’re not, instead of talking about our great value, our low tuition, lowest student debt of southern regionals, you know, we have to say what we’re not before we can talk about all the good things that we offer,” Miller said.

Miller also said that she understands the connection that alumni have to the name, but that the name change would not disregard or change the memories they made when they attended the university. 

“The name of the institution is not what you love, as an alumni, you love the experiences you had, the friendships you made, the opportunities the place offered, and then that kind of attaches to the name that it had when you were there,” Miller said. 

MUW alumna Laura Tubb Prestwich was hired as a naming strategist and brand development expert for the project.

“Specifically, I realized that there’s a lot of power in words, you know, and what you choose to name your organization is super important because it’s your first impression and sometimes you never get more than a few seconds to communicate who and what you are for,” Prestwich said.

Ivy Rose Ball

Prestwich said she believes a name change would continue to honor the university’s history, and that the university’s name does not have to contain the word ‘women’ in it to continue its mission of building up and serving women in Mississippi.

Some in the MUW community do not believe the change is necessary. Terri Sasser, a 1982 graduate, said she did not believe the university’s name was to blame for problems with enrollment. Sasser stated she could only be convinced that a name change is necessary if she saw hard evidence that it would help with the enrollment decline. 

“Personally, I’m one of the ones who doesn’t think a name change is necessary,” Sasser said. “I think that improvements in recruitment and enrollment could take care of it.”

Sasser said she appreciated that MUW is embracing “The W” as its identity since everyone refers to it as such. Sasser further stated that since the university embraces “The W” as its name, she does not understand why a name change is necessary.

The first proposed name was announced Jan. 8, with MUW intending to rename itself “Mississippi Brightwell University.” The proposed name change refers to MUW’s emphasis on wellness as well as their motto which states, “We study for light to bless with light.” This would have been a separation from “The W” identity and was not popular among alumni.

“It seems as though by picking a random name, just a word that means nothing, the school is trying to completely divorce itself from its history,” Sasser said.

Feb. 8, Prestwich was hired as naming strategist and brand development expert. After polling thousands of alumni and hundreds of students and faculty, the university announced its intentions to be named Wynbridge State University of Mississippi Feb. 13.

MUW President Nora Miller said the university is still committed to a name change despite alumni pushback. Courtesy Photo | Heather Harrison

The name starts with the Old English word for “W,” which would continue to support MUW’s attachment to the “W” identity.

“We are bridging our past, our present and our future,” Miller said of the second proposed name change before the university made the decision to delay the name change efforts.

Prestwich said that students were very supportive of the new name and that over 800 student postcards were handwritten by students in favor of the bill.

“For the most part, what students were really excited about is finally having a name that really reflects the diversity of the campus. You know, and that’s not just the guys saying that, that’s the women too. They want everyone to feel represented, they want everyone to feel included, and have a name that reflects them and their college experience,” Prestwich said. 

MUW men’s basketball player Josh Dukes, a sophomore healthcare management major from Booneville, Mississippi, said that a name change is crucial in ensuring that no one misses out on the opportunities that The W provides.

“I think most of the people that want it to stay the same are the people who went here, and I understand that, you know, it’s where they came and they don’t want to change that,” Dukes said.

Josh Dukes (left) plays men’s basketball for the MUW Owls. MUW has been co-ed since 1982. Courtesy Photo | Josh Dukes

President Miller said that with all the calls and emails to the legislature from those against the change, and with big priorities like Medicaid on legislators’ minds, it became evident that the change would not happen in this session. 

“I think everyone was taken a little bit by surprise by just how active our alumni are when it comes to things like this and I think that if we can pull the group all together we will be able to achieve some great things,” Miller said.

“I think that everyone realizes that at this point, the priority has to be that everyone feels like their voice is heard and that they understand what’s going on, and that we improve the communication before we can proceed,” Prestwich said.

Miller said that while they are still figuring it all out, but the university wants to organize face-to-face discussions with alumni so that both sides feel heard and understood.

Miller ended the letter with a statement that recognized the importance of keeping an identity that the whole MUW can identify with.

“Please know that we will always be The W,” Miller said. “It is our past, our present, and our future.”

About the Contributor
Ivy Rose Ball
Ivy Rose Ball, Editor-in-Chief
Ivy Rose Ball is a junior communication major from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. She currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief and served as the Photography Editor from 2023 to 2024. [email protected]
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