The Seal Controversy: Alumni, students, and parents respond to rebranding efforts

An Introduction by head editor Catherine Benedict ’16 

Westminster’s new marketing campaign and launch of several secondary logos to supplement the traditional school seal, announced in an Upper School assembly on April 19, has ignited a firestorm of controversy. The new branding, which was created by Atlanta-based marketing company MindPower and centers around lime green (as opposed to the more traditional Westminster forest green) and minimalist fonts, has been met with mostly negative reactions. The school’s April 22 changing of its Facebook profile picture to the new logo had received at press time 151 Facebook “reactions”: 103 “angry,” 28 “sad,” 17 “likes,” 1 “love,” 1 “haha,” and 1 “wow,” in addition to 30 mostly negative comments. On May 4, Afton Yilidirim ‘15 started a petition entitled “Save our Seal” on As of May 8, the petition had received 2,551 signatures and dozens of comments from various members of the Westminster community. In response, on May 5 and 6, the school posted two “brand updates” on Facebook, explaining that the marketing team would carefully consider community feedback, which were again met with negative comments on the rebranding. On May 6, the school again updated its Facebook profile picture to the new logo in the traditional forest green, commenting, “In our excitement to introduce new brand elements, the secondary color has understandably been interpreted as being primary. In light of that, we’re re-emphasizing traditional Westminster green.” This color change was much less maligned than the initial profile picture change, garnering 32 “likes” and 2 “angry” reactions.

In response to the controversy, the Bi-Line has solicited opinion pieces from a variety of community members: students, recent graduates, alumni from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and parents. We aimed for the most balanced perspective we could. The strength of Westminster is its people, and we hope to give community members a voice in these pages.

When asked for comment, director of marketing and communications David Long said: “We have certainly seen and appreciated the passion our students and alumni have for Westminster over these past weeks.  Hopefully, we have been able to clarify that this process was not about subtracting elements of our brand but about adding a few that help to represent it new ways.  We will still see the school seal everywhere and Westminster green is still our school color.  Of course, the feedback has been varied and helpful and we will continue to collect it in the weeks ahead and then be thoughtful about next steps.”

Allison Almand Ezell ‘88

I understand the desire of an organization to periodically make changes to its graphic identity, and I have been part of many organizations that have successfully done so.  Updated letterhead or a re-imagined logo can help keep things fresh and aesthetically pleasing versus staid and boring.  However, any changes to the visual brand identity of the organization should be carefully tied to previous designs and always consistent with the organization’s core values and history.   

On occasion, an organization may want to completely break from its past due to scandal or bad publicity, and thus seek to create a completely new and different visual brand that has nothing to do with historical designs.  Assuming that Westminster is not trying to break with its rich history or distance itself from its outstanding reputation, then I am at a loss for how the school came up with the new color scheme and design.  There is nothing of Westminster’s history or previous visual brand in the new design, and this baffles me.

One of the strongest identifiers of Westminster is the deep, dark, “Westminster green”.  The new lime green logo is not only visually jarring, but it is completely unconnected to the official school colors. Will our athletes be wearing lime green on the field or court?  Will diplomas come in bright lime green leather cases?  I certainly hope not, and as such I cannot understand how this color was chosen for a school logo.  Additionally the stylized font and modern graphics of the logo are equally disconnected from the school.  As many have pointed out, the new design looks more like logo for a car company or hotel chain than respected educational institution. It is unclear to me what message the new design is intended to convey.

The recently introduced logos and graphics are certainly trendy.  But new colors and fonts will be hot next year.  Will Westminster change its graphics again to keep up with trends?  This seems a complex and expensive road to venture down.  And for a school with such a rich and respected history, I sincerely hope we are not going to try to reinvent the school’s identity to keep up with popular culture.I applaud the school’s efforts to freshen up the visual identity of Westminster.  Change is hard, but healthy.  Yet I would encourage those responsible for making these changes to the school’s visual brand to reconsider the path they have taken.  Updating the letterhead and logos does not require throwing out the old ones.  Adding secondary colors or tweaking the font can add vibrancy to the former visual branding, but without losing the connections and associations of the former designs.  Westminster is built on history and tradition and it would be shame to have a poorly chosen visual brand diminish that.

Mark McClure, parent of a ‘27

It was over a year ago when we were asked to attend a group session comprising parents of students across all grades.  I know there were other group sessions that had alumni and students.  In those groups the company Mindpower was trying to determine how Westminster was being perceived and how the school can move forward in their vision.  They also had groups with community members to see how Westminster was portrayed in the community.   I will say the group sessions were learning sessions and data gathering from the students’ perspective, the parents’ perspective, the alumni’s perspective, and the staff.  We knew that Mindpower was there to rebrand and position Westminster’s image and bring them into the future.  Anyway, Mindpower took all that information and the new president [Keith Evans] had plans on where he sees Westminster heading.  All that information Mindpower learned in the focus groups is what is changing the branding, the tag lines, and the new website coming in 2017. I am sure there is more coming that we don’t know about yet.

As for my opinion about the new logo, I love the seal, very much.  As for the new W, I do like it.  I actually bought a sticker and put it on the back of my SUV (which sits in the right corner and on the left corner is the seal).  Also, the way the seal is designed, you can’t use it in social media.   

Would I have chosen that font for the W?  Honestly, maybe.  I will say I am a font person. I think the font make the name. Just like our women’s clothing store named after our daughter who goes to Westminster, Lorelai.  It took me a while and I actually had to hire someone to pick that right front and logo.

My daughter is ending 1st grade and going into 2nd grade and I am very excited for her future and I am very excited to see what other changes are coming with the website etc. I feel change is always good. ard for a lot of people but I think it is good because it teaches our children to evolve.  I do understand and feel the importance of the seal and what it means to the school and I trust the school says it will continue to be used and honored with events that are more traditional. Honestly,  I don’t thinking anyone should be worried about these changes (unless they were out there taking Adams Gate down, which they will never do). I trust and stand behind all the decisions that Westminster makes.  That is why I write the tuition check that I do.  I let them do their job just as my employer lets me do my job.

Nelson Douglas ‘14

To put it simply, the Westminster Schools’ new “seal” is confusing. Arising out of nowhere, the implementation of the new seal has current students, alumni, and their parents unanimously upset – to the point where student interest groups have organized “anti-new seal” movements via social media and other outlets that have gained thousands of supporters from the entire Westminster community.

The seal we know and love has served as a symbol of our school and its traditions for nearly a century. It embodies the excellence we collectively strive for – as students, teachers, advisors, alumni, and administrators – through superior academics, strong athletic programs, elite student organizations, and a commitment to serving our fellow students and community. Replacing the seal is unnecessary. The Westminster community (to my knowledge) has never spoken out about the necessity to replace our long standing symbol, in any capacity. Contrarily, through mass collective anti-seal change movements online, it is obvious that no one wants a change. 

The “new seal” introduction spotlights larger issues within the Westminster Schools as an institution – specifically a severe and ongoing disconnect between students, administration, and even parents. As a graduate and a captain of the baseball and football teams, I have experienced the broad spectrum of student-teacher/coach/administration relationships. Some of those mentors were instrumental to my personal development, but some were damaging to the point that the school lost value to me; assemblies emphasizing a “beloved community” became somewhat paradoxical. This example embodies the overall issue: the disconnect, which clearly continues to persist as seen through the now pressing seal change debate.

I loved my time at Westminster, and still do affirmatively believe that it is amongst the most elite private schools in the nation. I am motivated by this issue because I deeply care about the future of the school and its affected students.

Change is necessary, but not all change is good. The symbol represents the true green and white – the “Green Helmet” as Coach Romberg puts it (not the “Kelly Green Helmet”) – and transcends generations of Westminster students, faculty, parents and alumni. I am a proponent of progressiveness, but what does the new seal achieve?

Unanimous decision: nothing, as it seems. Always move forward – but please, Westminster, make changes only when they are in touch with the wants and needs of students, parents, and employees, and work to minimize the disconnect.

Afton Yildirim ‘15

I want my children, as well as future Wildcat generations, to walk through the campus gates and recognize a symbol and color that is a staple of many students before them. Westminster green and the seal unite us. We will continue to voice our opinions in hopes of being heard, and though we love everything our alma mater stands for, we cannot support this rash and ill-advised decision to “rebrand” what was already an influential and historically significant symbol. Though I cherish Westminster for everything it has taught me, I cannot stand idly by while our heritage is tossed aside.

Payton Mast ‘16

However upset I am about the changes Westminster has made, I will be more upset to graduate from an institution that refuses to listen to feedback and acknowledge (and fix!) failure. Are those not important parts of life all of us have learned while attending classes here? Step it up, Westminster.

Sang-Jin Lee ‘15

I think there seems to be some misunderstanding on the side of the administration – the way they are defending the change is by saying repeatedly that “there is a breakdown of communication! dont worry! the seal isn’t going anywhere!” and we all get that – we are smart people. The issue with this is that it greatly lessens the value of the seal. The seal used to be the sole emblem of Westminster, and because of this it carried weight. Now that there is a weird competing brand (this logo means x,y,z; this logo means a,b,c) it makes the school’s seal lose value and the cohesion of the Westminster brand decreases as a whole. Also, it probably would have been alright if the logo didn’t look so basic…the seal gave Westminster distinction but the new logo feels like something a freshman in college or even a highschooler in a graphic design program could have come up with. It feels very cut and paste/basic and caters to an aesthetic of design that is honestly very overdone.

Betsy Blitch ‘18

As much as I love and truly respect Westminster, I have to say that this new “rebranding” was an extremely poor decision. The fact that we are trading in our classy and meaningful seal for some unappealing, kelly green “W” makes no sense. Westminster has such a deep history and the seal reflects that, however, the modern logo simply makes us look like we are a school that started yesterday and wanted to come up with an overdone branding just to fit in. I say this out of complete respect because I love Westminster and I think we should advertise our school in a way that represents all the great things we stand for!

Isabelle Bellott-Mcgrath ’16 

I’ll start with why it is so hated, as explained at Firstly, having multiple colors and logos for Westminster dilutes its brand. Each component loses value and competes to be the representative icon of Westminster. Which is really us? No singular one can embody the institution. Additionally, the logo itself has no originality, no meaning, no reflection of Westminster. It looks corporate; in fact, it is (Volkswagen, W Hotel). As proven by many, the logo, as well as elaborate reinterpretations of it, can be recreated in MS Paint in 5 minutes. The color screams i-promise-we-are-progressive-and-tech-savvy-and-hip-please-notice-us! It looks cheap and underdeveloped.

The creation of this new branding in and of itself makes it seem like Westminster cares more about image and “keeping up” with everyone else than the quality of the school. Why be like everyone else? Westminster doesn’t need to worry about being well-known or admired. Its reputation is as the number school in the Southeast; it garners respect from everywhere. I have no issue with modernization or changing things that need improvement, but this investment is into a superficial effort to market Westminster as if it’s a service or corporation, advertising a product. In reality, it’s a private school that provides an incredible education with matchless teachers and academics, unparalleled athletics, and unrivaled students. Yes, Westminster’s standards are high, but that’s what makes it a standout. Forest green, brick buildings, the Wildcat, and the seal. These are just pieces of what ties generations of students, teachers, families, and alumni together in a shared experience. Of course Westminster evolves, but some defining characteristics must serve as its foundation. Character, history, honor, tradition, pride, authenticity, excellence. I have seen these repeated over and over in comments on the petition as what Westminster represents. When a student or alum sees the classic seal, they see their experience reflected in it. A first-timer would immediately understand what and who is. The new logo fails to accomplish both of these. Frequent comparisons to New Coke shed further light on this. If something is working so well, why stop? If our symbol is instantly recognizable, representative of our caliber and character, and universally loved, we shouldn’t mess with it. It’s wrong and simply sad to condense everything Westminster is and has been into “we are trendy, friendly, and technological!” This logo is not lasting, as our outward symbols have always been. This rebranding is surface-deep, and doesn’t change anything internal: it adds no real value.

Additionally, who is the target market? Let’s just pretend Westminster is a product that needs to attract a maximum number of buyers. Since we are struggling to attract these buyers…..oh, wait, we aren’t. Hundreds of students every year apply for very few spots at Westminster. Shouldn’t the ‘target market’ be the members of the Westminster community who are actually affected by any decisions and represented by this branding? Wanting to try something new is not a problem, but Westminster should have gotten input from its students, alumni, and faculty before implementing the change. Many teachers make fun of the t-shirts and slogan, and every one we’ve asked has said they were out of the loop. This is true for the few members on the alumni board I’ve spoken to. Obviously the students didn’t know until the assembly reveal. A small, oligarchical administrative committee has mandated and implemented this entire overhaul. None of it seems very in line with the values taught at Westminster. This is the irony. Students and alumni have reiterated how this campaign in itself conflicts with what they learned here. They are the people who know and understand what it means to be a Westminster athlete, a Westminster artist, a Westminster student. They know the values, the people, the ins and outs, and the day-to-day realities. Why would an outside marketing firm who in truth knows nothing about Westminster, be more trusted than the input of the community? I have yet to find a single member of it that is excited or even understanding of the campaign. Over 2,500 people have signed the petition in 2 days. There are names from at least 30 states. Alumni of Class of 84 or 98, middle school students, recent graduates, parents, teachers, amd former food service staff. It’s an incredible demonstration of what it means for a community to come together for something they believe in despite differences in age, lifestyle, opinion, and more. All these people were so impacted by Westminster that they still care enough. I’ve seen Dr. Seuss poems, scholarly essays structured as one might in English class or law school, photoshop masterpieces, jokes, satire, sarcasm, and references to literature, economics, the Bible, and pop culture. It is all entertaining and shows how diverse, creative, successful, funny, caring, and incredibly intelligent this community is.

What is incredible to me is that everything I have written thus far is only regarding the color and logo. That massive response is from former students who don’t know it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Administration has justified the new logo/color by saying they are only for certain things (like trashcans or trucks) while all else will remain the same. I might not even mind if this were the full extent of things. It seems they are now backpedaling and underemphasizing the rebranding when before it was The Great Reveal. I hate to say propaganda, but it really feels like an attempt at brainwashing. The kickoff assembly dropped all the news at once, celebrating the new era, and explaining the importance of a brand. The new name will be “Westminster” instead of “The Westminster Schools”, making us indistinguishable from every other Westminster in the world. Faculty were required to wear t-shirts bearing the new logo and slogan- Love. Challenge. Lead. Change. Flatscreens around campus that have always been blank now perpetually display images of the slogan, logo, and color. The logo was passed out on stickers, used for Westminster’s Facebook changed, and on our e-mails. On Spatio, they moved senior beach day to make way for machinery that hung giant banners between the columns of Pressly with the slogan/logos/color. There are signs designed similarly as you drive into the front and back entrances. Imagine if everyone on the petition knew the school name was changing! Or that “Love. Challenge. Lead. Change.” is written on everything! I am sad it was not used in their satire. Part of the senior prank included a sheet with the seal and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” hung in Pressly, which, unlike the rest of the prank, was confiscated without a word. They pretended it never happened- “we can’t let these student opinions be seen!”

If small changes had been introduced over time perhaps there wouldn’t be such a reaction. I have noticed, for example, the renovations have not had such critique. First, the new library, with its lime green and gray, plastic chairs and glass, and geometric shapes. After its interim time as a cozy, mini-library, our beloved basement of Askew has become a sterile “Office for Institutional Advancement”, void of students. Scott is an admissions center with the same *modern* aesthetic, the counselors have a new *modern* office space, and the main hall of Pressly has been under construction for months, with a sign displaying its imagined future and reading “The New Presidents Hallway: Opening Summer 2016.” Renovations are not inherently bad, but the clash in style and color and material shows that “it’s just a logo for trash cans!” is a gross mischaracterization of what this is: a bigger scale, sweeping makeover strategy.

In their article addressing the rebranding, Westminster acted proud of the huge amount of money invested. I think most people find this upsetting, seeing as it seems like a waste. Additionally, there are many areas Westminster could have used it for instead. More financial aid and scholarships for top-notch students that struggle to afford it. Investment into faculty and bonuses for teachers. A better system of support for students- advising, mental health, and help planning. Financial aid for study abroad so it’s not such an exclusive opportunity. The arts department- both visual and performing. I know my friends bring some of their own art supplies to class. Expensive instruments lay around because there is no storage space. There is no rehearsal space either; we still use McCain which was said to be “temporary” years ago.

Lastly, all of this could be excused if, once Westminster realized its mistake, acknowledged it as such and responded accordingly. As some of my graduated friends expressed to me, “I can’t believe it’s real! That doesn’t sound like the Westminster I know.” The Westminster we know wouldn’t implement something so dramatic without asking its community, much less make light of the resulting criticism and never recognize its misstep. Everyone speaking out was clearly majorly influenced by Westminster and we hope a genuine expression of our thoughts will make an impact on something important to us. We want ourselves and our experiences here to be reflected as they are. We don’t want to come back to an image completely disconnected from these memories and experiences, an image pandering to unaffiliated detractors and the perceived current zeitgeist.

Meg Dreyer ‘82

I am a Westminster aluma who went to Rhode Island School of Design for an MFA in graphic design who is writing this from Istanbul, my home. Westminster has always stood for quality, commitment to excellence, and dedication to surpassing the expected. This logo reflects none of those core values. In fact, it reflects no values at all. It could stand for any school (or childcare center, yoga studio, grocery store, etc) whose name begins with the letter W. It’s a failure of visual communication and a betrayal of the foundations and traditions we hold dear.

Design has an objective and I would argue the best design has meaning/message that is bourne out in the aesthetic. The real problem with the new logo is it doesn’t say anything. It isn’t visual communication. It’s just space-filler, a decoration for the white surfaces of vans and wine cups. Maybe the color and the techno letterform make it more ‘friendly’ and web-viable but the mark itself could be for anything. There’s no inherent meaning in the letter W. It isn’t specific. And every business wants to appeal to new/younger generations, so while this is a marketing objective, it isn’t meaning. I’m curious, administration, did you ever discuss what you wanted the new logo to express? If you can articulate your intentions, I can tell you if your logo is successful. Otherwise, discussing it in terms of like/dislike, beautiful/ugly is pointless because these things are subjective.

Myles Hudson ‘17

You’ve seen the Facebook rants, the #SaveOurSeal hashtag, and ’15 alumna Afton Yildirim’s petition. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three weeks, you’ve felt the undercurrent of negativity and resentment permeating the Upper School. One thing’s for certain: people are angry about this branding “refresh.” At the time I wrote this article, Yildirim’s petition was just thirteen shy of 2,500 signatures in the past 72 hours. That’s more than the population of the whole school. In my five years at the Westminster Schools, I’ve never once seen students, faculty, parents, and alumni come together in solidarity with such speed and passion.

While I hate that it had to happen this way, I’m immensely proud of our student body for uniting each voice into a rallying cry that the administration was ultimately forced to listen to. It’s important to make a distinction between listening and hearing. The administration was forced to hear our voices sounding from three social media platforms and on-campus displays of distaste for the puke-green “Volksminster” logo. But it’s taken nearly 2,500 petition signatures and endless Facebook crusading to get the administration to listen. Even then, only half the problem has been resolved. We still have the Volkswagen V as the face for our online presence. Since the branding refresh was unveiled, one question keeps burning in the back of my mind: Why am I so angry about this?

I’m angry because students, parents, alumni, and faculty weren’t asked what they thought of the new branding. Given the number of surveys we receive on a weekly basis, adding one more to that count wouldn’t hurt—especially for something of this magnitude. Then that $250,000 spent on developing the logo would have created something that everyone could stand behind. As a member of student government, I was deeply offended by the fact that the administration had not thought—or bothered—to contact the only body of elected student representatives on campus. How are we supposed to be the “bridge between the student body and the administration,” the “voice of the people,” if we aren’t given a chance to represent the people’s opinions on such a pivotal issue?

I’m angry because it took the administration three weeks to recognize our cry for change. During those three weeks, the same few sentences were copied and pasted as a rote response to growing pushback. It trivialized and downplayed an issue held very closely to the hearts of Wildcats across the world. Most baffling to me was the administration’s way of suppressing the outcry. It tried sweetening the putrid offer of new branding with green-and-white donuts. It hung huge banners with the pineapple wheel of Ws on the steps of Pressly Hall. It utilized every TV in the Upper School to feed the “Love. Challenge. Lead. Change,” message to our subconscious minds. If this isn’t propaganda, I don’t know what is.

Something the administration failed to realize is that propaganda only works on the weak-minded. If the students here were weak-minded, we wouldn’t be ranked 5 among private day schools nationwide. We wouldn’t turn out so many doctors, lawyers, politicians, and CEOs. We wouldn’t be the Westminster Schools.

The classic, prestigious Westminster seal is a key component of our identities. It represents the 64 classes that have graduated from our school. It represents a history of tradition, excellence, and fearlessness. We’ve won the battle for our return to Westminster green. Let’s win the war for our return to the Westminster seal.