“The results are encouraging,” remarks Marlboro College’s Director of Marketing and Communications Matthew Barone. “We have a clear direction to move in.”
Heads nod in agreement.
“We provided Kor with clear communication regarding where we need to go. We can take pride in our movement through constructive feedback.”
A week earlier, at a biweekly campus Town Meeting, modeled on the longstanding Vermont Town Meeting tradition, Marlboro College community members, encompassing all students, faculty, and staff, presented their feedback on graphic and textual drafts of Marlboro periodicals, mission statements, and photography in an ongoing cooperative effort with Kor/Libretto Marketing of Boston to revitalize Marlboro College’s marketing direction.
Dozens of Post-it Notes, photographs, and schematics lined the walls of Marlboro College’s dining and “town” hall during the meeting, asking students, staff, and faculty what they think when they hear the word “Marlboro College.” Phrases like “radically traditional,” “a little bit like wonderland,” and “cold” stuck out among the montage. One of the most important issues arising during the meeting in the minds of the community was the possible alteration or total revitalization of Marlboro College’s traditional logo, the Fighting Dead Tree.
Everyone’s voice was heard. “The tree is a symbol of life. It’s a symbol of knowledge,” remarked freshman Johan Sigg.
“I think there is something about consistency in wanting to keep the logo,” chimed in Marlboro College Web Developer Elliot Anders. “We see the Fighting Dead Tree, and we think Marlboro College.”
“We need to be bolder,” countered Ariel Brooks, director of nondegree programs. “We tend to be tradition-bound and conservative.”
“It’s not that [keeping] the Fighting Dead Tree is just traditional, but that it represents us,” replied Anders. “At Marlboro, what is truly important to us is the process. And if we throw away the process to get to the end result, we are not following our core beliefs. We have to take this process and own it. We shouldn’t be designing by committee, but feedback is part of the process.”
At Marlboro College, the process is everything. The monthly assembly of Town Meeting governs community life and serves as a forum for collegewide issues ranging from campus smoking and curriculum changes, to revitalizing Marlboro College’s entire marketing direction.
Community sentiment figures heavily in administrative decisions, and Town Meeting representatives serve on a number of faculty and administrative committees, and represent the students at trustee meetings. Elected Town Meeting officers include nine selectpeople, who call meetings and function as community leaders and intermediaries between committees and the public community. Town Meeting encourages community members to take responsibility for their academic experiences, health, and community life. Only the financial matters of Marlboro are left to the board of trustees, although even on those, students and faculty get to have their say.
“Town Meeting gives students a sense of ownership over the school in its entirety. In its administration and its curriculum, we feel as if the school belongs to us, rather than we to the school,” says freshman Cordelia Fuller.
“Town Meeting teaches us the virtues and vices of living in a democracy,” says Meg Mott, professor of political theory. “Sometimes we reach consensus after a persuasive and poetic argument and sometimes we get lost in the details. Democracy is probably the most frustrating form of government and also the most rewarding.”
Sophomore Ivy Woodrow agrees. “You can often get lost in the language, but when there is an important issue at hand, our discussions are absolutely beneficial.” Ranging from 20 minutes to four hours, Town Meeting discourse provides a tangible result in the Marlboro community, from a push for a popcorn machine to the construction of a greenhouse.
Town Meeting also elects a scholarship fund committee, which offers scholarships to students in need of academic or social funds. Capital flows from the Town Meeting general fund, an aggregate of student activity fees and reserves paid by every student each year. Junior Pearse Pinch received money for a plane ticket to India this past fall through his application and Town Meeting discourse.
“The scholarship fund allows students to take part in activities that may not only be beneficial to their immediate Marlboro College experience. It allows freedom,” Pinch says.
With Town Meeting, students always have a sense of influence through involvement, both financially as well as socially.
“I’ve never experienced that level of participation, and it goes to the heart of what makes this community so special,” says Barone. “It’s so fresh. It’s a shared responsibility, and everyone takes that role very seriously, unlike any other college environment I’ve ever seen. And that’s a really powerful thing.” Barone has had over a decade of communications experience within the college and university setting, including six years experience in communications at Harvard University.
“We have real student, faculty, and staff involvement here. We don’t all have to agree, but we can take the core of our discussions and push our efforts towards a distinct direction. We are always moving,” Barone adds. “Not everyone is going to be completely happy, but in the end, we can take pride in the invaluable collaborative process of Marlboro. Kor/Libretto is just one example. We know ourselves very well internally as a community. It’s time to show thousands of others who we are.”