Students, alumni object to proposed Mount Holyoke logo

  • Route 116 in South Hadley, with Mount Holyoke College at the right. Josh Kuckens

  • A proposed logo that Mount Holyoke College withdrew after public outcry. The controversy was over the Venus sign — the pictogram that is often used to represent the female gender — featured in the proposed logo.

Staff Writer
Published: 12/17/2018 10:09:19 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — For any institution, rebranding can be a chance to apply a fresh coat of paint. But there are plenty of pitfalls, too, and Mount Holyoke College is learning that firsthand.

“We are listening,” were the first words of a recent message that Charles L. Greene II, Mount Holyoke’s vice president of communications and marketing, sent to the campus community in reaction to backlash over a proposed new logo for the college.

The logo in question featured the initials “MHC” organized in such a way that the “H” and “C” also formed the Venus symbol — the pictogram that consists of a circle with a cross below it, often used to represent the female gender.

That symbol, as well as hot pink versions of the logo, drew ire from some students and alumni online. One former student, Tessa Ann Schwarz, wrote on Twitter that the Venus symbol made it seem like no transgender or nonbinary people ever graduated from the college.

“Speaking as one of those trans alums, you all will not be getting my money until this is changed, and I am not alone,” Schwarz tweeted.

Others appear to have taken issue with the rebranding effort in general.

“Why am I paying more than $60K a year for my daughter’s education only to have them waste money on such an absurd endeavor?” one parent asked on the college’s Facebook page. Another poster was more blunt: “Am I looking at a pregnancy test?”

On Thursday, the college began soliciting feedback from a group of students, who raised concerns about the Venus symbol, which consultants had proposed as an option for brand identity and logo, according to Greene’s message.

“It is now evident to us that this symbol has a long history of exclusion connected to movements that, while trailblazing for some groups, represents the erasure of others.” Greene wrote. “While it is always disappointing to realize that our creative work has not achieved its goals, it is deeply upsetting to realize that the work is seen as offensive and damaging.”

‘Visual identity’

The perils of rebranding are familiar to those in the region who remember when the Economic Development Council of Western Mass. had to put a pause on its $80,000 “West Mass” marketing campaign after intense public outcry.

The college did not say how much it had paid the firm Ad Hoc, which has been working with Mount Holyoke on several projects involving its “visual identity,” according to college spokeswoman Keely Savoie. 

Savoie said Mount Holyoke’s leaders decided to update their branding in the fall of 2017.

“This decision to pursue a new look and feel grew out of a comprehensive, institutional planning process,” Savoie said. “Developing a new logo was part of our comprehensive approach to update and strengthen the reputation of the institution as a modern, global, innovative force in education.”

Moving forward, Savoie said the college will not be using the proposed logo, and will be sharing a new working plan with the college community in January.

Greene, for his part, said in his letter that the logo should represent the college’s broad diversity “without tokenizing or marginalizing any members of our community.” In order to do that, he said the team in charge of the rebranding will be taking “a step back in the design process” to get more feedback and participation in the process.

“As we start the new year, we look forward to reconnecting with students who volunteered to continue advising us on this process as well as others who might be interested,” Greene wrote. “In addition to creating a formal student design advisory board, we will also solicit more regular feedback from graduates, faculty, and staff.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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