Whatever happened to never fear / change?

BY ABBY BAKER '19

The 2016 Baccalaureate poem written and recited by Carly Bidner ‘16, was entitled “Never Fear / Change,” and began, “When Mount Holyoke told us to Never Fear / Change It’s safe to say we all [stepped] back and wondered how that slogan was arranged?”

Indeed, the significance of Mount Holyoke’s marketing campaign “Never fear / change” has been frequently questioned and discussed among prospective and current students. In particular, the slash placed between “fear” and “change,” raises questions on the intended inflection and interpretation of the slogan.

However, the ambiguity is very much the point. The slogan was implemented in August of 2013 as part of a new branding effort by the college. A press release for the new branding campaign issued on Aug. 12, 2013 stated, “The College proudly believes Never Fear / Change aptly describes the Mount Holyoke experience and will increase awareness of both its mission and its most compelling attributes.”

That the phrase can be read as “Never fear change” or “Never fear. Change,” is an intentional choice, meant to carry multiple meanings. The Mount Holyoke Alumnae Association website states, “while the slash signals some ambiguity, we feel that, like poetry, it is evocative and powerful.”

The slogan was the product of more than a year of research that consisted of surveys completed by members of the faculty and staff, as well as students and 8,000 Mount Holyoke alumnae, according to the College website.

“Never Fear / Change is a motto that is supposed to make you think, because Mount Holyoke itself is not just a liberal arts education,” said Victoria Parrish ’19. “What you learn in the classroom is not just content, it’s skills, and Never Fear / Change is a really great partner to that because it makes you think about what it means, and that’s what a Mount Holyoke education does too.”

Mount Holyoke alumna Kathleen Murphy Jasaitis ’88 agreed. “I think that it can be read in two different ways is clever,” she said. “The directive not to fear change itself, change as an abstract concept, is one that I think is more and more important as we get older. And the directive taken to the next level is to set fear aside and change in the face of fear. I know that’s not always practical, but it is a reminder that fear accomplishes little.”

Jasaitis noted that her only memory of Mount Holyoke branding from her time as a student is the block calligraphy of an M and H, which she says “just wasn’t appealing aesthetically.” Branding efforts change over time, as does campus culture. Said Jasaitis, “I’m still wrapping my head around the idea that anyone would call themselves a MoHo. To me, it sounds like an insult. But I see that people have embraced it. I guess that’s an elemental part of the Never Fear / Change idea.”

However, others are more critical of the unconventional structure. “It’s shocking grammar. I would not find it compelling,” said former Mount Holyoke student Kate Mellor.

Prospective students to the Mount Holyoke class of 2018 were asked to write about what Never Fear / Change meant to them for one of their admissions essays when they first applied to the College. Samantha Panikian ’18 said, “I had no idea what Never Fear / Change meant when I did my admissions essay, so I just wrote about an internship that I did that at first I was nervous about, but I learned not to fear the change. Looking back, I’m a little surprised how casual I was about interpreting it, but the prompt was super vague and didn’t really give you a lot to go on.”

Panikian said that her position on the slogan has changed over time. “The motto has definitely grown on me. At first I thought it was dumb and meant nothing, and I still think that a little bit, but it’s easy to make it your own with things like never fear / queer or never fear / charge and I like how everyone gets into it, even if it’s in more of a joking than a serious way.”

Indeed, the sense of humor that surrounds the phrase may now be part of the its significance, particularly since the phrase is not often used officially anymore. Keely Savoie, interim director of Media Relations said, “It’s not something we currently use,” though she added that Communications does use the phrase on posters.

Katie Cashin ’19 noted, “I really like how LITS made a parody of Never Fear / Change on the library charging docks, which say ‘Never Fear (lightning bolt) Charge.’” Cashin added that she would only support increased use of the phrase if used humorously. “It might get redundant otherwise.”

Neither Cashin nor Panikian attribute the slogan to influencing their decision to attend Mount Holyoke. Panikian made her choice based on the financial aid package she was offered, and Cashin attended because of the quality of professors, campus architecture and M&C’s.

MindPower, the marketing company that created the campaign, would not disclose the cost of the marketing campaign. A MindPower employee stated that “all contracts are totally different based on what the institution needs.”

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