Editorial: Rescind the new student group branding policy

March 30, 2017

The Editorial Board strongly condemns Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) and Homewood Student Affair’s new branding policy for student groups. Kirsten Fricke, the SLI’s director, notified student group leaders of the policy on Thursday March 16, right before Spring Break.

The guidelines require new and pre-existing student groups to change how they use the Johns Hopkins University name and iconography in their official names and logos. They also announced new rules detailing which official Hopkins logos student groups can use for their own logos and websites. The branding guidelines also require groups to use only certain, University-approved fonts.

Under the new policy, groups may only use the University’s name if it is clear that the group is comprised of students or if the name refers to Hopkins as a location. For example, the Johns Hopkins Black Student Union can keep their name, because it is clear that they are a student group.

However, the Hopkins Bike Club can either become the Hopkins Student Bike Club or the Bike Club at Johns Hopkins. The new policy will force upwards of 150 student groups at Hopkins to change their names.

The administration’s arguments in defense of the new policies are unconvincing. Their only concrete justification was an incident where the student-run Johns Hopkins Investment Group received a substantial donation because the donor mistook the club as an official University organization. Fricke argued that this confusion would be easily avoidable by making it clear that the group was student-run in the name.

We don’t understand why the administration didn’t just ask only the Investment Group to change their name instead of applying it to all 400-plus student groups. Considering the confusion occurred two years ago, why wasn’t the new policy enacted then? The administration argues that these new guidelines are preemptive. Preemptive of what? Are they afraid of potential legal action?

The Hopkins name is a source of pride for students, and we believe the University should also take pride in its student groups. Fricke said that she and the rest of SLI endorse and support student organizations, but this policy seems to prove the opposite.

Why doesn’t the administration trust students to use the Johns Hopkins name appropriately? Many student groups have existed for over a century. Considering that certain names are now part of the University’s history, changing them disregards the lasting work that student groups have achieved.

The policy is, frankly, confusing. To use the Hopkins name in a locational sense both sounds awkward and creates unnecessary ambiguity. For student groups that do community service off campus, using “at Johns Hopkins” is confusing because their work is not confined to the Homewood campus.

For other groups, adding “at Johns Hopkins” to their name would give the impression that they are the Johns Hopkins chapter of a larger national organization, which is not always the case.

We at The Johns Hopkins News-Letter aren’t even sure if the policy will affect us. We have been publishing for 121 years, and we represent the only historical record of student accomplishments at Hopkins. In our masthead on the print edition, it is clear that the paper is published by students, but this is not clear in our full name.

While we receive no funding from the University and are not an official student group, our identity as the “Johns Hopkins” News-Letter is critical. If we lose “Johns Hopkins,” we can no longer function as the historical record of student accomplishments.

The policy also stifles creativity. Throat Culture, the University’s only sketch comedy group, is a prime example. Its logo, which features a cartoon laughing face with the school’s official crest in its mouth, conflicts with the policy because the shield is drawn and not printed. The group will need to create a new logo even though the image as it stands is creative and representative of the group’s mission. They are a sketch comedy group that is deliberately tongue-in-cheek, and they should not need to change their logo.

Calling these policies “branding guidelines” frames student groups as just an extension of the University’s official marketing strategy. Why does the administration feel that student groups are poorly representing the University’s brand?

Student groups are supposed to be a place for creativity independent of the administration. And if these policies are meant to standardize groups, they leave very little room for originality.

The administration should not have announced this policy the day before many students left on Spring Break, when few were here to react. This policy has proven so confusing that this weekend SLI is holding a workshop to help student leaders better understand how to adapt to the changes.

Re-registration for student groups ends on April 15, and the University expects group leaders to understand and implement these branding guidelines by then. In order for groups to actually understand the policy and its implications, we implore the administration to listen to student feedback. The Editorial Board recommends that the University rescind the new branding policy.

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