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ISSUE 116 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2003

Alternative advertisement: Community questions what it means to be an Ole

By Jane Dudzinski
News Editor

Friday, March 14, 2003

A recent advertisement promoting St. Olaf in the March issue of Mpls/St. Paul magazine has caused numerous students and faculty members to re-evaluate what it means to be a St. Olaf student.

The advertisement depicts a college-age student dressed in alternative style clothing, complete with purple hair and a tattoo on her leg. The image was purchased by the media relations department, said graphic designer Mike Mihelich. The girl is not a St. Olaf student.

According to Amy Gage, director of media relations, Mpls/St. Paul approached her department with an offer for a reduced-rate, full-page advertisement on the backside of its special college edition. She and her staff had only one week to prepare the advertisement, she said, and they chose a non-St. Olaf student as the subject because of the time constraints.

"We asked ourselves, ‘Is this someone that we’ve seen on campus?’ And the answer is yes," Mihelich said.

Gage also pointed out that the selection of the advertisement, chosen over others depicting Old Main in the fall or a young girl playing the piano, was deliberate.

"The image is meant to ‘pop.’ We wanted people to stop and look at it," Gage said.

The phrase that accompanies the image, "Alternative thinking: ideals to action," was meant to reflect the values that President Christopher Thomforde upholds, said marketing specialist Paul Pfeiffer.

"We’ve heard President Thomforde speak, and he stresses that you don’t just educate students, but you convey to them a sense of service and a connection to the broader world," Pfeiffer said. "[The slogan] is about not just having ideals, but also having a responsibility to action. And that is the key component: action."

Because the advertisement appeared only in Mpls/St. Paul, the media relations department said that it tried to create an overall image that would appeal to the typical reader of that magazine, whose average age is 51.

"These words resonate with people who lived in the sixties, and we want to raise visibility at a time when want people to consider us," Gage said. "It is our job as communicators to push boundaries because that is what we hear the president [of the college] saying. We’re very proud of this ad."

Across campus, the advertisement sparked discussion everywhere from administrative offices to classrooms.

Dean of Students Greg Kneser said that he thinks that the advertisement is an adequate representation of one aspect of the College.

"It really speaks to who a lot of our students are," Kneser said. "We want to communicate diversity. No single image can capture what it means to be a St. Olaf student."

Kneser also emphasized that there is not one universal view the administration has taken in regard to the advertisement, and that there is no reason for the administration to approve such images before the public sees them.

"The media relations department exercised its good professional and personal judgment," Kneser said. "You certainly cannot run everything by everybody."

Ed Langerak, philosophy professor, has taken a considerably different stance, and wrote an e-mail to the entire St. Olaf faculty in response to the advertisement. He said that his main objection is the use of the photograph in connection with the words.

In the e-mail, Langerak raised the question, "Perhaps, as a colleague suggested, this ad means only to say ‘we aren’t as stuffy as you might think’—but even then, do we have to (ab)use those words, evocated of the ideal of vocation, to lighten things?"

Langerak also pointed out that if he were a parent seeing the advertisement, he would "wonder what kind of students we are trying to attract, and what sort of ethos we are going to convey."

Meanwhile, classes in a variety of disciplines discussed the advertisement as well. Assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies Diane Leblanc, media studies professor William Sonnega and American studies professor James Farrell facilitated classroom debates about the image.

Leblanc said her Introduction to Women’s Studies class talked about how images in the media influence how people view themselves, specifically in relation to the depiction of the woman in the advertisement.

"There is a danger in choosing one person, because then you are naturally not representing someone else," Leblanc said.

According to Leblanc, the class’ concern was that "the image feeds the stereotype that in order to think alternatively, you have to look a certain way."

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