The University of Mary Washington is at a crossroads with its identity. Three years ago, during my sophomore year, UMW started experimenting with ways to attract new students while still staying true to who we are.
Achieving balance has proven to be tough. With the new advertising campaign, our authenticity has been compromised by catchy sayings and confusing messages. The Student Senate’s Oct. 24 motion requesting that the banner advertisements on the light posts throughout campus be removed is indicative of the student response.
According to the Senate’s Facebook page, the senate voted to remove the banners because they “reflect poorly on Mary Washington, and hurt the institution’s credibility.”
“The senate feels the banners do not reflect the values of the average UMW student,” explained Robert Belcourt, senior political science major and president of the UMW senate explained, “The motion was approved unanimously by a group of 50 senators, and each senator represents 50 students.”
Many believe the phrases are strange. It seems “welcome to the mind show” is meant to allude to our primary slogan, “Where great minds get to work.” However, the correlation is unclear. It sounds like the catch phrase of an illusionist or a magician, not a college looking to be taken seriously.
Furthermore, “no apologies, that’s how I think” and “change your mind” are easily misinterpreted. Rather than promoting a community of open, diverse minds, as they were likely intended, they imply acting without consideration for others and reevaluating the decision to attend UMW, respectively.
Other than being confusing, these phrases do little to resonate with the community they are supposed to be representing. Students are the ambassadors for UMW, and a portion of our tuition dollars is being spent on marketing the school. Therefore, the ad campaign should reflect the student body and our community values.
Bianca Iman Brown, senior philosophy major at UMW said, “I don’t have a problem with advertising. It’s cool and everything, but I just don’t know what they mean. What is a yes-brainer? Why can’t they just put up pictures of the eagle, our logo or things we care about?”
Belcourt agreed and stated, “In my personal opinion, in-house advertising should reflect interests of the students. Why not focus on a community service group like COAR, or Honor Council, or our sports teams? The slogans are hard to understand and leave UMW students disappointed.”
Most people like the look of the banners, but everyone is worried about their content.
Tom Rinaldi, sophomore economics major, thinks “It’s cool seeing students that I know on the banners and advertisements around campus. It like, resonates more, but I still don’t know what those phrases mean.”
Besides leaving current students uninspired, it is interesting to consider what type of person these banners will attract, and who they might deter. Walking through campus has always been an easy selling point for the university, but with strange sales pitches dangling from light posts, prospective students will likely get the wrong impression or leave confused and uncomfortable.
Sometimes it feels like UMW is trying too hard to be anything but UMW. We are borrowing ideas from other Virginia universities and investing money in superficial promotions rather than focusing on what makes us great. We have an amazing community built on honor, positive relationships, small classes and academics.
UMW should rely on student feedback to establish a better balance. Evidently there was a student panel regarding these banners, but no one seems to know when or where it took place. Better communication is imperative in the future.
There is a happy medium here, but UMW has yet to find it.
Elizabeth Brennan is the president of the Judicial Review Board.