Jan 30, 2014

How Symbols Reflect Campus Culture and Shape Communication


I have been reflecting a lot lately on the impact of symbolism on communication.  I think we often underestimate the power of simple symbols in our campus culture and what they communicate to people about our shared belief system.  And, as I often find, subtle symbolism on school campus actually overrides or conflicts with the marketing messages that the school or college is projecting.

Walk on any school or college campus and you will quickly get a feel for the culture of the place, but it is likely not just from words spoken.  If you pay just a little bit of attention, you can pick up icons, symbols, and other visual expressions of culture just by walking around snapping a few photos or videos.  For example, a campus with really poor or aging navigational signage might have a hard time reinforcing a marketing message that it is an open and inviting community to all.  Or, a campus with a very formal communication interaction or style between faculty and students may have a hard time building a credible marketing message of student-centeredness.  My favorite examples are schools and colleges that really focus on a message of socioeconomic diversity yet create feelings of exclusivity in the way they dress their campus imagery, from facilities to facades to campus entrances.

I encourage you to take a walk around your campus with a newcomer, a first time visitor, and ask them what they “see” and what it communicates to them when walking around campus.  You might be surprised that some of the marketing messages your campus has been working so hard upon are being eroded by subtle symbolism.  And, you might find some interesting ways to reinforce some of your key messages with more intentional symbolism.

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