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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Does Brandeis really want name on all club swag?

Published: March 14, 2014
Section: Opinions

It would be fascinating to observe the change in individuals’ wardrobe between the beginning of the first year at Brandeis and the end of that person’s senior year. Yes, they likely will have cast aside the American Eagle t-shirts in exchange for H&M button-downs in an attempt to stop sending the message “Go to the middle school dance with me,” and start sending the message “Hire me please, employers!” Perhaps they will have decided that some dresses in their closets are just a bit too cutesy for someone their age. However, one of the more noticeable changes will have undoubtedly been the massive collection of Brandeis paraphernalia, or “swag.” While at Brandeis, a student will be overwhelmed with water bottles, T-shirts, sweatshirts and Frisbees adorned with the logos of their various clubs and organizations. Largely, the production and distribution of all of this swag is left up to the clubs themselves. However, a recent move by Brandeis will require that all of these items have the name “Brandeis” on them. While this clearly has some good intentions behind it, it will invariably intrude into the way clubs define and market themselves.

The administration has taken this measure as an effort to expand the Brandeis brand. Who can blame them? Of the major colleges in the Boston area, Brandeis is one of the least well-known. If one takes a stroll through Prudential in Boston they will find kiosks selling not only T-shirts and sweatshirts from Harvard and Boston University, but also colleges well outside the city limits, like Boston College and Tufts. People do not generally think of Brandeis when they think of Boston—which is odd considering that Brandeis is one of the best universities in the Boston area. Through requiring clubs to carry the name of the university, hopefully more repute can be gained for Brandeis. Brandeis students would act as advertisements for the university, both on campus for any tour groups walking by and in Boston and around the country.

Not only would the very expression of the word “Brandeis” act as an advertisement, but the coupling of “Brandeis” with whatever the club or organization does would be good for the university’s image. Students are engaged in a lot of great activities, from theatrical productions to athletics to political activism. When a passerby would see the words “Brandeis Democrats” on a T-shirt they would think not just about Brandeis, but also about how Brandeis students are a politically active bunch.

While these are great potential positive impacts, it is clear that there could be some drawbacks. Inherently, through tying themselves to the clubs and organizations through such a measure, Brandeis will be adopting the image of those groups. The university will be taking on both the “good” and, what in their eyes may be, “bad.” For example, there could be groups with controversial viewpoints that the university would in essence be adopting. There could also be language deemed inappropriate by the university that they would be adopting. This could lead to problems for both the university and the students involved in the various clubs and organizations. If the university feels that a message of a campus group’s T-shirt is inappropriate for whatever reason then their image—as they see it—could be damaged. However, I could easily see a scenario whereby the university would decide to request that the group change the content of the T-shirt to get more in line with university values. This would be an intrusion into the messaging and marketing of individual groups on campus, which would be bad for the students involved.

One could say that this would be fine, given that the university funds these campus groups and should be able to have some oversight. I would agree that if the university pays for the swag then they should be able to have some say in the content displayed on the swag. However, this—at least in my personal experience—is not the way it works. As part of theatrical productions, the debate team and The Hoot over the course of my time at Brandeis, I have gotten a lot of t-shirts and sweatshirts, many of which cost money. It has simply become a custom for me to rush to the ATM as soon as the sweatshirts arrive so that I can get one as soon as possible. I am sure that many other groups that create swag for the purpose of advertising operate in a similar pay-per-item fashion. Therefore, I say to university officials that it is fine if you want to be involved in the way club T-shirts and sweatshirts are produced on campus, but please kindly send me a check for my Hairspray sweatshirt.