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Grinnell’s new banners

Topics/tags: Grinnell, marketing, rambly

Communications recently decided to fill the light posts on campus with multi-colored banners with two-word phrases [1]. Some of them appear individually, some paired with another. I’ve mentioned a few of them in earlier posts, such as one in which I comment on language. Quick snapshots of the banners have also appeared on my Facebook feed, particularly as I get irritated by the different ones.

What do they say? Here are some.

  • Learn Grinnellian. I don’t know what this means. The best suggestions are It’s missing the vocative comma and should read Learn, Grinnellian and Grinnellian is clearly serving as an adverb; it’s like Gangnam style [2].
  • Live Grinnellian. In this case, Grinnellian is clearly serving as an adverb. Well, I guess there’s a chance that Grinnellian is a noun and Live is an adjective, as in Live Nude Grinnellians, or some such.
  • Go Forth Grinnellian. Another case in which the vocative comma seems to be missing. Or perhaps another use of Grinnellian as an adverb.
  • Give Thought and Take Action. An interesting pairing. These are both activities that I hope Grinnellians engage in [3]. I must admit that I find give thought wordy. Isn’t that just think?
    Or perhaps it is intended to mean give your thoughts to others. I understand that the pair is supposed to be clever and ironic. But, well, that’s the level of cleverness that is typical in the musings, which is to say it is insufficient for the level of writing we expect of most Grinnell students.
  • Seek Meaning and Spread Kindness. I can’t dispute those two. However, I don’t see a natural pairing to these two. I did, however, hear one person say Spread butter. Be Kind.
  • Cross Disciplines and Build Bridges. Are these intended to say the same thing? I’m not sure. We don’t have engineering on campus [5], so Build Bridges must be intended as metaphorical, except for the few students who build marshmallow and toothpick bridges in some sections of Bridges, Towers, and Skyscrapers or The Evolution of Technology [7].
  • Envision Progress and Take Action. We clearly like Take Action; we pair it with multiple things. I find this pairing better than the previous one. Since I’ve just mentioned The Evolution of Technology, I guess I should challenge Progress. To many, Progress goes with some form of technological determinism". And that’s not always good. I’ll assume that the writers intended progressive progress, which is worth taking action for [8].
  • Honor Experience and Challenge Assumptions. A strange pairing. I’d think we’d find something closer to our current slogan, which goes something like Grinnellians ask hard questions and question easy answers. So how about Ask Questions and Question Answers. Maybe I missed those two.
  • Explore Theories and Share Knowledge. Would Learn and Teach be better? I realize that they are one-word banners, rather than two. But part of my subconscious finds the one-word phrases more powerful. Come to think of it, one-word phrases might work for many of the cases: Explore, Share, Teach, Learn, Live, Seek, Build, Challenge, Honor, Give, Envision, Study, Thrive, Discover, and so on and so forth. Take wouldn’t work so well, but most of the rest would. ANd we could add other words, too. Decide. Choose. Accept.
  • Meet the World and Discover Yourself. Another one of those clever pairings. I’m not thrilled with the ways in which the first one breaks the two-word form. Couldn’t we have come up with something better? Let’s see … Encounter Difference or Meet Others come to mind, but neither gets the global perspective right.
  • Study Everywhere and Thrive Anywhere. Do I like the intentional pairs? I can’t tell. I see that we’ve switched from verb + object form to verb + adverb form. I’ll just keep telling myself that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds [9].
  • Think Critically. It’s nice that this banner gets a sign to itself [10]. Unfortunately, the shade of green they chose does not go well with the nearby foliage. Is that critical enough?
  • Scrutinize the Past and Visualize the Future. Back to verb/object pairings, but with an extra article. How about Scrutinize History and Visualize Possibilities?
  • Live Vocally (paired with something else). I’m surprised we haven’t removed these ableist banners.
  • Think Critically and Live Locally. The latter is clearly a better alternative to Live Vocally. I’m not sure that there’s any other sense to the pairing. The clear pairings in other cases make me search for correspondences in pairings like this one. But I failed.
  • Demand Clarity and Navigate Ambiguity. I appreciate that the ambiguous one is hung upside-down, at least from one side [11]. My more attentive colleagues say things like Clear expression of ambiguity is a decent summary of what I’m (often) trying to teach and Clearer expressions regarding uncertainty yield vastly improved analytical writing [12].

There’s also a Live Locally and Something Globally pairing whose details I’ve forgotten. I’ve probably missed a few others. But this should be enough to give you a sense.

I’ve heard folks proposed a number of alternatives.

  • Advertise incessantly.
  • Pair words.
  • Think ahead. This one is a commentary on the typesetting of the banners, where words often push to the end of the borders [14].
  • Demand Quality. You can imagine the sarcastic comments that accompanied this one, particularly given the odd printing
  • Embrace Ridicule.
  • Pilot-Test Ideas. This one verges into the three-word model.
  • Bleed Text. Can you tell that my readers don’t like the way the text is placed?
  • Overthink Everything. I’m pretty sure this was a comment on the comments people were giving.
  • Consult Expensively. I’ve been told that this is President Kington’s motto.
  • LARP Grinnellian. We have Dag, HvZ, a community of Vampires that hasn’t been seen since the late 1990’s [15], and more.
  • Don’t Panic. Wait. That comes from somewhere else. Where is that towel when I need it?
  • Park Legally.
  • Think Different. Or is that Think Differently. In either case, Apple likely owns a trademark on it.
  • Write Clearly or Express Clearly. If we had only one banner on campus, this should be it. Accept Difference, or some other statement about inclusion, is the other I’d make core.
  • Confuse Others.

So, how do I feel about the banners? My first response was frustration. I don’t like many of the phrases and find a few offensive. They generally strike me as shallow. I worry that none of them seem to address issues of inclusion and diversity. We may not do either as well as we should, but they are core to our values.

As someone who spends too much time fighting hobgoblins, I am bothered by the inconsistency: some have two words, some have three; some are verb+object; some are verb+adverb. I had also hoped that each would have a corresponding page on the Web site where we described each in more detail, perhaps with a story from a Grinnellian. After all, part of the Grinnellian experience is analyze concepts carefully through extended writing. But, no, it appears that the banners are supposed to stand alone [16].

What purpose do they serve? I had originally thought that the banners were supposed to be part of our campaign to attract more applicants, particularly since they appeared at about the time the campaign was rolled out. And my assumption that they were part of the campaign was part of what led me to believe that we’d have something else on the Web site. Particularly when I thought there was a tie to our Web site. But people visit campus relatively late in the process. Are these supposed to improve the campus visits?

So all I know is that it’s a Communications project. And, as is often the case, Communications is a mystery.

I’ve heard at least one person say that they are successful because they’ve generated discussion. But the discussion I’ve heard has been largely critical. I don’t think that this is one of those cases in which all publicity is good.

One of my colleagues who is also an alum [17] has suggested that one of the great strengths of Grinnell is that it can be different things to different people. After all, that’s a core aspect of the open curriculum. If I ignore the really bothersome banners (e.g., Learn Grinnellian and Live Vocally), I’ve started to see them as meeting that goal. Rather than viewing this as throw it at a wall and see what sticks campaign, I’m seeing it more from the represent the diversity of Grinnell experiences perspective [18]. I’m not ready to embrace the campaign [19,20], but I think I’ve reached the point that I can tolerate it.

Nonetheless, I still think I’d prefer banners with just one verb and no object or modifier [21] or at least a bit more consistency in the structure of the banners.

[1] And, at times, three-word phrases.

[2] I made that second one up.

[3] Or in which I hope Grinnellians engage [4].

[4] Insert the traditional Harvard joke.

[5] No, the 3-2 program doesn’t count, even though we invented it [6].

[6] More accurately, Grant Gale invented it.

[7] Yes, I did have students build marshmallow and toothpick bridges in The Evolution of Technology. I wanted them to get some sense of the issues involved in designing structures.

[8] Dear conservative students: I am progressive, or at least liberal in the traditional sense. I am certainly happy to discuss with you different views on what progress is or should be and I will listen to, and perhaps be influenced by, your thoughts.
Dear more-left-than-I students: The same goes for you.

[9] Or is that a hobgoblin. Let’s see, the Interweb tells me that Emerson says A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. I got that article right. I forgot the initial article, and I substituted small for little. Is getting the quotation right foolish consistency?

[10] South of Noyce facing the HSSC, for those who want to find it.

[11] Well, it’s upside-down if you look at it from one side. On the other side, Demand Clarity is upside-down.

[12] Authors left anonymous.

[14] If you haven’t seen the legendary Think Ahead signs, you should be able to find some on the InterWeb.

[15] Vampires are undead. They will return.

[16] Or hang alone, or wave alone, or whatever you call it.

[17] No, not Jacob Jensen.

[18] I can push that far enough to accommodate the bothersome ones, too. Some Grinnellians experience meaningless phrases, ableist comments, and mediocre writing.

[19] Or whatever it is.

[20] If it’s a campaign, I’m also not ready to enlist in it.

[21] Muse is a good one.

Version 1.0 released 2018-05-22.

Version 1.0.2 of 2018-05-22.