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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Out of Order: Our vision of ourselves

Note: In my last column, I overstated Grinnell’s “long-standing and impressive” policy of need-blind admission: while the policy applies to domestic students, admission for international students is need-aware. However, I would like to point out that, despite being need-aware, the discount rate for international students is extremely close to the discount rate for need-blind admitted domestic students. In any case, I thank Saphir Blau ’14 for bringing the matter to my attention.

Last Tuesday, students received an email signed by President Kington regarding a 300,000 dollar gift to the College. The gift, from trustee Steve Holtze ’68 and his wife, Elizabeth Alexander Holtze ’68, is in support of the Institutional Identity Project, for which the College has hired Crane MetaMarketing, a consulting firm, to “help articulate Grinnell’s distinctive character [to attract] qualified applicants, while also remaining authentic to the College[.]”

I was off campus last semester, and this email was the first I’d heard of the project. So, like I think many of us did, I reacted to the email with skepticism: “This is nothing more than a marketing campaign designed to attract more full-pay students,” I thought to myself. An article on the project from the Nov. 8 issue of this publication only reinforced my suspicions; the most telling quote I found was taken from a PowerPoint on the project, stating that “If we [the College] want people to pay list price, they have to see extraordinary value.”

This isn’t about institutional identity at all, I thought. It’s about the same fiscal sustainability issues that gave rise to the contentious need-blind admission conversations of last year. It’s about getting a more wealthy, less diverse student body, I concluded, and that’s not worth 300,000 dollars.

But that’s not what the project is about.

I love Grinnell. I know that many of us do. But, as Linnea Hurst ’15 explicated in her excellent column last week, sometimes I have trouble defining why I love this place as much as I do. When asked “What makes Grinnell different?” or “Why should one choose Grinnell?” I stumble, unable to articulate what precisely Grinnell means to me. I’m not good at telling Grinnell’s story, and I know that many of my classmates have the same problem.

As a Grinnell community, we need to get better at talking about ourselves. This doesn’t mean that each of us needs to tell the same story—if Grinnell meant the same thing to everyone, it probably wouldn’t be a very interesting place to go to school—rather, we need to increase our ability to talk about what makes Grinnell Grinnell, to see ourselves as part of a bigger picture.

The College has hired Crane MetaMarketing to help facilitate this work. In conversations with over 100 students, faculty, staff and parents, the firm gleaned varied insight from many stakeholders at all levels of the College. On Thursday, March 6, the firm will return to campus and will hold several open meetings to share its findings. The firm will also produce a “Review and Reflection” paper, and the Communications Department will set up a way, either on PWeb or via email, to offer comments on it.

Crane’s work is important. It is likely that their findings will guide College publicity for years to come. They will shape the way the College talks about itself, and will alter the way the College articulates and acts on its mission and core values. This is necessary work—whether it needed to be done by consultants for, I am told by a reliable source, “between 1,000 dollars and 1,000,000 dollars,” is another question—but it is imperative that students are as involved as possible. We don’t want another “No Limits.”

So go to these presentations. Read the Review and Reflection paper. This will be your chance to shape how Grinnell, and we as Grinnellians, presents itself and our-selves to the world. And if, by articulating our vision of ourselves, we find that we can attract prospective students who might one day love Grinnell as much as we do, then so much the better: “I want to attract applicants of all kinds,” said Jim Reische, Vice President for Communications, “because I believe this college is worth attracting them to.”

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