SMC's New Logo

By Erin Hallissy

Q&A with Vice President Michael Beseda

Photography by Nicolo Sertorio.

Q: Why has the College developed a new logo?

A: The logo is part of a much larger process called for in the president's Building on Strengths strategic plan, namely to create an institutional marketing plan to enhance the reputation and visibility of Saint Mary's. As a broad-based campus committee worked on that initiative, it became clear that to promote the College better, we first had to think about our essential identity, and an important component of that is our visual identity. There was a wide variety of logos in use, and it became clear to the committee that the visual cacophony wasn't successfully expressing the unique qualities of Saint Mary's.

Q: How did the committee arrive at the unique qualities that the logo should convey?

A: After extensive research and interviews with literally hundreds of members of the College community, four key questions were presented to the alumni board, our faculty, staff, student senate, Christian Brothers community and other groups. The purpose of the questions was to try to get a sense of how these groups viewed Saint Mary's. In addition to asking "What unique values should the College's identity reflect," we asked "How local or global is Saint Mary's?" In the last iteration of the logo, the largest words were "of California," and we needed to hear from our community if they really wanted to emphasize "of California" or something else about Saint Mary's. Another key question was "How contemporary does Saint Mary's want to be?" Everyone we spoke with responded that they wanted the College to be contemporary with traditions. A few people wanted something even more modern, futuristic, and others said, "No, we want a balance between being relevant with the current world, but also deeply respecting our traditions."

Q: So how does this logo represent Saint Mary's as "contemporary with traditions" and other facets of our identity?

A: A theology and religious studies professor noted that making the word "Saint" largest in the logo makes it seem as if we are yelling "Saint Mary's." To that faculty member, that made it clear that we wanted to announce ourselves as a Catholic college in a very proud way. Also, the font is both modern and sleek and evokes the type of font that we see in the Bible and classic texts. The "Y" in Mary is the silhouette of open book, for our liberal arts and Great Books tradition; the cross in the E of College is a vivid reminder of the dialogue between faith and reason at the heart of the Catholic intellectual tradition. And the primacy of the passionate "Saint Mary's" red color is to be clear we want to be noticed. For too long we have been a hidden gem, and now we want to be known for the things that make us a wonderful place.

Q: And how does it capture our place in a global society?

A: The prior logo with "Saint Mary's" smaller and "of California" larger was trying to address the challenging fact that there are a lot of Saint Mary's colleges, universities and many other Saint Mary's institutions. One of our identifiers is that we're in California. I don't think people thought about how global Saint Mary's is. We're connected by the Brothers to a worldwide mission and set of schools. Our students and faculty are connected globally in the programs we offer and where they study.

Q: Why isn't the Chapel in the logo?

A: The Chapel will always be an essential part of the College's visual identity. As we develop communication vehicles with the new logo, the Chapel will be a defining visual element through photography.

Q: Why is photography better?

A: People think of the Chapel's beauty, but they often think of its setting in the valley, which a logo can't capture with the richness that our memories evoke. I'm reminded of Brother Sixtus Robert's thoughts about his favorite view of the College; it wasn't the College by itself, it was the College in this valley, embraced maternally by this setting.

Q: What has been the initial reaction to the logo?

A: Predominantly very positive. People say, "Wow, I really see it. It announces Saint Mary's in such a powerful way, in the way I feel about it." There have been some people who have concerns that the Chapel isn't included, and hopefully through dialogue we'll address those concerns in a way that they'll feel good about the results.

Q: How long will this logo be used?

A: The institutional marketing plan sets the stage for the sesquicentennial, and it's an important part of that celebration. If you look at the history of logos at Saint Mary's, every 20 or 30 years people have an appetite to think anew about the identity and how to express it visually. I'm hopeful it will have a long history, but it's up to people who succeed us to decide.

Q: Will it be used in all graduate and undergraduate programs, everything except athletics?

A: Brother Ronald has made it clear that it's important to have a single institutional logo for the College and all of its programs. We won't spend scarce resources to reprint things in the middle of this economically challenged time, but as we develop and reprint materials, we'll be incorporating the new logo.

A comprehensive group of documents on the logo and on the marketing plan are available on the College's website at