OCTOBER 1, 2013
Justifying the Ways of Continued Interview with Dean the College to Men Sterling on the Rebranding
(Cont. from, St. John’s Undergoes, on Page 1)
Although students and alumni alike agree that changes to the website are necessary, part of what has caused such a reaction among students and alumni has been the way that Siegelvision has approached the project. Recent graduate Chris Katrakis stated, “The real disappointment has been the lack of a proactive effort on the part of Siegelvision or the College to solicit alumni input, closely followed by the minimal outreach for student input. While many students participated in Siegelvision’s research—either by meeting
to people who are not used to finding what they are looking for in the ways that we have described it before.” With this in mind, it makes sense to marry the opinions of those from the college community with an outside firm like Siegelvision in order to project a clear and meaningful message that will also do its job of attracting more new students. Currently, St John’s is not effectively communicating our purpose as a college or attracting new students who would both benefit from the St John’s experience as well as add to our community as a whole. Students, faculty, alumni and administration can all agree
“The real disapointment has been the lack of a proactive effort on the
part of Siegelvision or the College to solicit alumni input...”
with representatives last year or by responding to the email survey over the summer— there is little conversation.” As Johnnies, conversation is central to the way we do things. The assumption that Siegelvision is unwilling to have an open dialogue with the greater college community was exacerbated by town hall meeting on the Annapolis campus on September 13th where the Siegelvision representative seemed to do his best to avoid student questions. This leaves students and alumni wondering if someone who is outside of the college community is best equipped to help St. John’s both inform and attract potential students. While someone outside of the college community may not be the best spokesperson, Mr. Duvoisin points out that “…we are prone to describing the college in ways that make sense internally, but not externally. The goal of the rebranding is to make it visible
that this needs to change if we want our community to thrive in the future. While this process has been unpleasant at times, the re-branding initiative that is currently underway should have the potential to create positive results. President Peters offers reassurance that our program and our community are not in danger. “Nobody wants to change the nature of what we do and the way we do it. All we are trying to do is communicate as clearly and effectively as we can to the world at large, but especially to prospective students and their families, who we are, what we do, why we do it and why what we do is worthwhile. That’s what this is all about. It’s not about changing us, it’s about helping people understand us better.” Ann Hooper is a Senior at St. John’s College, Santa Fe. She can be reached at ann.hooper@sjcsf. edu
(Cont. from, Dean Sterling Answers, on Page 1)
What I think Siegelvision is trying to say is that there might be other idioms that we should try to use to connect with a contemporary audience. That’s still controversial, but I don’t think they’re saying that we should never mention Homer and Plato. And they can’t mean that—I’ve said that to them directly. Maybe the front page doesn’t need to say, “The following teachers will return to St. John’s next year,” though some people love that, but if the front page doesn’t say it, then page two has to say something like that. I think the finished product will seem more moderate and consistent with what we’ve been doing. We might still have criticisms of the website, but there is no need to fear that it will resemble an alien invasion. We’re not going to run away from who we are—at least I’m not going to. We can’t run away from the books, we have to run on the books. But we don’t have to run exclusively on the books—there are many ways to talk about what we do. There may be some good rhetorical strategies that we have not yet utilized as well as we might. And we shouldn’t use them just because some firm tells us to, but because we have thought them through. Why do you think this kind of controversy occurred? Do you think there should have been more discussion with the students and alumni, since, as you said, there was such limited information we received?
I think there is a process side to it, but there are also deeper reasons as to why these kinds of debates well up
there’d be a revolution where millions of people would undertake this kind of education. That sounds a little utopian, or, perhaps, insane, but I really do think we go back and forth on this in a conservativeprogressive tug, not in a political sense. We want to keep our identity and not get swept away by the times. But we want to reach people today, and maybe that does mean talking in a new way. Though some people think this tension emerged later, I think it’s existed from the beginning. Every time we compose a postcard, a catalog, a webpage, an emailing, it activates this question. Sometimes it looks like it divides our community into two camps, but I think it divides us individually. I think Johnnies are willing to do something unpopular and untimely, but from another point of view it has to be alive for people today. Rhetoric just is a matter of reaching people where they are, not where you’re going to take them. Our purist side desires to say it to the world the way we say it to ourselves, but in a sense, rhetoric is a matter of not saying it the way you say it to yourself, but saying it so that someone can hear it given where they are, and they can be moved by it. I know from some students it’s the purest statement of the program that called them like a siren song, but for some people it’s some of the videos that exist on the website that catch their attention. There are students who come here without a background in these texts, but come for the classroom experience, while others come because of the list of authors. We want to get all of those people to at least be open to the program, and that might mean casting out multiple nets. It might be that once they come and have had this education they’ll see it the way we see it, but right now we need to say it in a way that meets them where they are. We’ve always tried to do both things, and hoped they could converge, but I see it as a real enigma for us to work through, always imperfectly, and what we’re doing right now activates those competing sensibilities that are in all of us Johnnies.
“We might still have criticisms of the website, but there is no need to fear that it will resemble an alien invasion. ” periodically. It’s rare for us to send something like this out to students to test it. We usually keep these deliberations within the faculty and administration. I think it’s been a very healthy kind of flare-up, and I’m not sure I’d do it dif-
“...[W]e’ve had an internal struggle about whether what we do is to be celebrated because it’s untimely and countercultural and we want to stress that to reach the few, or whether we’re doing something that we think everybody wants and everybody needs...” ferently, but I think that when you try to test something, you open up a process that people are only somewhat aware of. However, you can’t have weekly meetings with eighthundred students to bring everybody into the details of the process, so we invited this partial awareness that some big things might be happening. We had a letter that tried to frame it, but we were also trying to move quickly. There’s not a perfect way to do this. But in the age of social media, these things go viral among alumni and students, and it’s still swirling, but I think as more light comes to it, such as interviews like this and the Gadfly article, it’s settling down. But I think the deeper answer is the more interesting one. I believe that as long as the college has existed with this program, we’ve had an internal struggle about whether what we do is to be celebrated because it’s untimely and countercultural and we want to stress that to reach the few, or whether we’re doing something that we think everybody wants and everybody needs, and if they could just get it,
“We can’t run away from the books, we have to run on the books. ”
A flyer created by some students and alumni concerned about the rebranding.
Samantha Ardoin is a Sophomore at St. John’s College, Santa Fe. She can be reached at Samantha.Ardoin@sjcsf.edu
Published on Mar 13, 2014