Some of the strategic documents associated with Saint Mary’s last Web design (and the messaging guidelines behind it) discuss a triad of identity components: Catholic, Lasallian, Liberal Arts. While we understand the reasoning behind this division, we think it works against SMC’s best interests.
By dividing SMC’s identity into three separate yet related parts, we may be avoiding some tough (but fruitful and interesting) conversations about the core institution itself. What makes Saint Mary’s compelling (to us, at least) isn’t something that we can separate that way. The role played in the academic process by SMC’s religious foundation; the Lasallian concept of education as a form of social justice in itself; the particular emphasis on voluntary service as part of the student experience; the fact that SMC’s athletes talk their way through the Great Books just like everyone else; the discussion of literature and philosophy around a table that itself reflects the lack of hierarchy in the Lasallian practice of Catholicism: these to us are the cornerstones of Saint Mary’s College.
To consider Lasallian identity separately from the liberal arts, or Catholicism separately from the Lasallians, strains the imagination. But a thriving community of scholars, founded in a particularly academic and service-oriented branch of the Catholic religious tradition, is easy to understand. That’s what we hope the new SMC Web site will represent.
1. On the current site, “About SMC” is an afterthought. It’s a link in the footer, and the resulting page has just a couple of paragraphs of text, with sublinks for a grab bag of SMC-related pages. We argue that “About SMC” should be the most important and meaningful section of the site: the place where SMC’s unique identity and culture are hashed out and presented to the public. The redesign process can facilitate those conversations, and we’ll look forward to representing them visually, but the final word on what SMC is about can only come from your own community.
2. The site design shouldn’t mask SMC’s religious identity. Saint Mary’s students come from all walks of life and all religious backgrounds, but all the students we’ve met— none of them Catholic, yet—came to SMC at least in part because of its religious values. As Brother Ron put it in our meeting: “We accept people of all faiths because we’re Catholic.” That is a very powerful message, and one that your new site ought to send.
3. The role of the Christian Brothers in student life can be presented with personality and warmth. The Brothers themselves tend to be beloved members of the community, and their prominent campus profile is, to some degree, an anachronism. In this buzzy Web 3.0 future-driven world we live in, it’s refreshing and compelling to see students and Brothers working in small groups, or sharing meals, or in conversation during Theology on Tap. It speaks to an earlier time in American education, and (we believe) reinforces some of the core elements of the liberal arts tradition. We’d
like to see more Brothers depicted on the site.
4. For a college to communicate clearly and powerfully, it should have a sense of what it is not as well as what it is. Although Saint Mary’s is open to prospective students of all faiths (or no faith at all), we have the sense that students that are actively hostile to religious traditions wouldn’t enjoy the Saint Mary’s experience. The Saint Mary’s logo has at its heart the book and the cross; the institution does as well. It’s in everyone’s best interest to present SMC’s Lasallian Catholic foundation as it actually is.
5. It’s important to define “Lasallian” for some of the site’s audiences. But it’s not necessarily that important. We very much like the casual approach taken in some of your admissions materials (“We’re a Lasallian college— google it”). That won’t be enough for the new site, but we would like to suggest that the issue of defining “Lasallian” can to some degree be offset by showing Saint Mary’s values in action via student life, news stories, and the curriculum.