Emerson’s rebranding effort offers opportunity

At issue: College enters second phase of rebranding initiative

Our take: Community feedback highlights areas of improvement

The college’s rebranding initiative is long overdue—the last comprehensive review of Emerson’s brand identity was completed in 2004—and has taken far longer than anticipated since the effort’s initial launch in 2013. Setbacks notwithstanding, the college needs more than a new logo and a quippy catchphrase.

The school’s work to rebuild its brand should reflect the most recent changes in our community, namely growing desires to increase cultural diversity and competency on the part of students and staff. The spring protests for more comprehensive diversity training for faculty and the campus climate survey, which revealed that students of color consistently reported having less of a sense of belonging, all underscore a growing faction of students who wish to prioritize racial equality as an institutional goal. Incorporating this as a core value of the school’s rebranding project would not only show a commitment to those current campus members who feel excluded, but also facilitate in the future growth of our community’s diversity—yielding more donors and students from minority backgrounds who can find this environment to be a welcoming one. 

Rebranding ought to be about making the school a better and more inclusive place, not just naming accomplishments to climb popular college rankings. Recruiting and rebranding aren’t analogous, but the latter does have the potential to implement change. It’s incumbent upon the committee (a group of approximately 40 students, faculty, and staff members) reviewing and revising the college’s narrative to make this more than just an overhaul of the college’s purple “Emerson E” aesthetic. Something as simple as an academic institution’s mission statement can make an important and distinctive difference, forcing the school to reconnect with or revise its founding ideals, while also presenting an opportunity to redefine values that should align with the sentiment of recent demonstrations about racial equality on campus. 

The important part about incorporating these aspirations into the rebranding process is that they go beyond ideas. It’s inspiring to put the desires of our student body into consideration, but it is also important that those additions not be empty promises. The changes should still reflect realistic assessments of where our school is now and where it could be in the future. Emerson College wants to become more inclusive, more diverse, and more collaborative—that doesn’t mean it is those things. We have room to improve, and that’s not a bad thing to reflect in the rebranding process. We always expect more of ourselves in the best way. 

There’s a lot of research that speaks to the academic and artistic benefits of a diverse environment. According to a study conducted by the University of Maryland on race-conscious college admissions, race not only affects who goes to college, but what actually happens to students once they begin learning together. The findings indicated that racial diversity is essential to promoting a positive racial climate. Classroom conversations and creative collaborations would be bolstered by improved diversity on campus for both student populations and faculty, especially at an institution that teaches about industries that require teamwork across disciplines, geographies, and identities. 

Rebranding is a costly investment, one that has long outlasted all initial timeline projections (in December 2014, Andrew Tiedemann, vice president for communications and marketing and the head of the rebranding project, said that he expected a new brand to be live by fall 2015). However, its potential, if actualized, would make the investment worth it. Students deserve to demand great change from the rebranding process, because in actuality its impact is larger than that of just a logo. If the school decides to invest money in making diversity goals—along with financial and academic ones—a part of the Emerson’s brand, this could send a powerful message to current students working to ignite change.