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‘Brightwell’ Out As Alumni Vet 3 New Names For ‘The W’

Mississippi University for Women convocation in a large auditorium
President Nora Miller announced the proposal of Mississippi Brightwell University during MUW’s Spring Convocation on Jan. 8, 2024. The name has garnered criticism from many alumni.  Photo courtesy MUW

Brightwell University will not be the new name for Mississippi University for Women after an uproar from alumni of “The W” forced officials to back down on those plans. Now President Nora Miller said the university will retain its moniker as “The W” even as it searches for a new name.

“I don’t know if the W will be first,” Miller told the Mississippi Free Press on Jan. 23. “We know we’ve got to have Mississippi and university in there. The other word is going to start with a W.”

Administrators were set to evaluate the results of a survey after alumni finished sending responses on Monday. That survey included three new proposed names: Wynbridge, Welbright and Wynbright.

Alumni and others on social media railed against the “Brightwell” proposal after Miller announced it during the university’s Spring Convocation on Jan. 8, with some questioning the process’ transparency. Critics argued that the name, which a task force selected, had no ties to the university’s history or beloved nickname.

“We announced the name here on campus. There was a lot of excitement about it,” Miller said. “But I quickly realized where I had made a critical error. The naming task force was treating this kind of like the advice you give an expectant parent, which is don’t share the names until the baby’s here because people just tell you what’s wrong with it. So that’s what we did but this baby belongs to more of us than the task force.”

‘It’s Just Too Tainted’

President Miller’s announcement of the “Brightwell” name came after a 15-month-long process which included garnering feedback from students and alumni on what they felt was important for the university’s new name. She explained the choice in a video on Jan. 10.

“Mississippi Brightwell University carries with it a sense of positivity and excellence,” Miller said. “The word Brightwell suggests a place where individuals can shine and thrive, a place of enlightenment and wellbeing. This positive connotation is not only aligned with the university’s promise of a transformative educational experience but also supports the university’s desire to be seen as a forward-looking institution.”

Alumni quickly organized to halt the name change.  A petition said the “proposed change does not adequately represent the rich history and legacy of MUW.” The measure had garnered almost 5,000 signatures by press time with many comments encouraging alumni to call legislators to stop the change.

Official headshot of Heather Stone
MUW Alumni Association president Heather Fasciocco Stone released a statement regarding the proposed “Brightwell” name on Jan. 9, 2024. “During this time, I want to express heartfelt sympathy for the sentiments you may be experiencing. I, too, share in your grief,” she wrote.  Photo courtesy MUW

Mississippi House Rep. Kabir Karriem, D-Columbus, told the media on Jan. 11 that he had heard concerns ranging from the meaning of the proposed name to the need for a name that continues to reference “The W.”

Karriem said that the university may need to pause the current process. His district includes Lowndes County, where MUW is located. Karriem said lawmakers in the House and Senate will have to vote on this name change before it becomes official.

“I think it will be incumbent on the staff, the president, to take a pause, pivot and really assess if this is really what the name is to be—Brightwell University,” Karriem told media on Jan. 11. “I am in support of a name change. I just think Brightwell, with all the debate and robust conversation, might not be the name at this particular time.”

MUW Alumni Association Heather Fasciocco Stone president responded to the uproar in a statement on Jan 9. In it, she expressed understanding of alumni who were in disagreement with the proposal but reassured them that the university would hold true to its legacy.

“Regardless of our name, this university will continue to uphold its commitment to quality that defines our institution and protects the traditions that formed her,” Stone said.

‘A Vibrant and Forward-Thinking University’

President Nora Miller acknowledged the growing discontent in an email to alumni on Jan 11.

“As we navigate this significant transition, I am actively reviewing all feedback,” Miller said. “I value your insights and experiences in this process. Our commitment to rebranding is unwavering, as we recognize the importance of a name that encapsulates our dedication to inclusivity and excellence in serving future populations. This change is a step toward ensuring that our identity as an institution is in harmony with our values and the diverse community we serve.”

A Message from MUW President Nora Miller
MUW President Nora Miller acknowledged the criticism of the proposed name in an email to MUW alumni on Jan. 11, 2024, saying she was “actively reviewing all feedback.”

The task force sent the survey to alumni and constituents on Jan. 26 with the names Wynbridge, Welbright and Wynbright. The survey offered the meaning of each name and asked respondents if each name fit with their idea of a university, was distinctive and made sense with the university’s brand statement, which describes it as a “vibrant and forward-thinking university built on a tradition of academic excellence, personal growth and leadership, and strong community.”

Miller now says Brightwell is no longer an option and the task force is going back to the drawing board.

“In seeking a name that was more inclusive for students. We were not inclusive enough throughout the process,” the president said. “Now, I think it’s just too tainted by all that was said about (it).”

The task force will choose and announce a new name after completing a review of the feedback.

Miller said the publicity has shown that alumni are truly invested in the university’s future.

“We have gotten a lot of attention and people understand just how passionate our alumni are. That’s a good thing,” Miller said. “People will have a voice. It’s not a vote, but people will not be surprised by the name that’s selected because it will be one of the three that (went) out on the survey.”

Miller said she hopes to announce a new proposed name by February 14.

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