Photo: Alex McKenzie
In the fall of 2018, students started receiving emails from administration that included new mockups of school logos designed by UMBC alumnus Jim Lord, class of ’99, and the Marketing and Creative Services Team. We were invited to provide feedback on these designs, which included variations on themes including a classic shield and a sleek, cyber-inspired circle. On Dec. 7, Associate Vice President of Engagement Lisa Akchin sent out a mass email detailing that, “After 18 months of feedback from students, faculty, staff and alumni through focus groups, retreats, meetings and surveys, we’re almost ready to finalize our new graphic identity as part of a larger University-wide branding initiative.”
The recently finalized version has started appearing on decals, email signatures and letterheads. While graphically striking, this logo uses unfortunate images with ties to the Confederacy — specifically the red-and-white Crossland pattern, also used in the Maryland flag. Considering the history of our state, our city and our school, this imagery is inappropriate for a newly created logo.
According to the UMBC Brand and Style Guide website, the Office of Institutional Advancement set out to review and reform UMBC’s branding following the school’s 50th anniversary in 2016. The OIA states that during this process they hoped to “recommend refinements to sustain an authentic, contemporary brand identity; and articulate an institutional marketing plan to continue to advance inclusive excellence and position UMBC as a campus and partner of choice.”
In Akchin’s aforementioned email, she remarks that surveys indicated “strong support for the shield design and some support for, but many issues with, the circle design,” and eventually the new logo was unveiled: a “Maryland flag-inspired” shield that combines the traditional black and gold Calvert family coat of arms with the red and white Crossland family coat of arms.
UMBC’s aim, to create a contemporary and inclusive symbol as a representation of our diverse university, is an admirable one. But the new logo falls short. The history of the Maryland flag is one of war and compromise. The black and gold pattern, which doubles as the flag of Baltimore City, acted as an unofficial Maryland flag during Colonial times. According to the Maryland Office of the Secretary of State, in the mid-nineteenth century, specifically after the election of Abraham Lincoln, Confederate rebels adopted the red and white Crossland flag as an act of rebellion against the Union.
According to an interview with Maryland Historical Society reference librarian Francis O’Neill, as published in the Baltimore Sun, red and white were so closely tied to Confederate sympathies that wearing the two colors together became banned in Baltimore during the war. At the end of the Civil War, the two flags were combined in a conciliatory effort, and the modern Maryland flag was born.
Included in the set of logo mockups released for polling was a shield that, though similar to what was selected, excluding the red and white Crossland flag. Maryland is not the only state to display Confederate symbols in their flag, but unlike the Mississippi flag, for example, there is widespread ignorance about the meaning of the Crossland coat of arms.
Having attended Maryland public schools my whole life, I was never taught about the significance of our dichotomous flag. This speaks to an even larger issue: a lack of education about our state’s Confederate ties. Maryland’s past is brushed over in a way that restricts our growth and understanding, and especially in today’s political climate, it becomes important to recognize the intention behind the symbols we project to the world.
In the past few years, there has been a movement on college campuses and within cities to eliminate Confederate-affiliated symbols. Baltimore City played a large part in this effort and was quick to remove Confederate statues, making headlines by doing so quietly and overnight. Across the country, schools bearing an eponymous connection to Confederate sympathizers were renamed.
I believe that UMBC should have used this rebranding exercise as an opportunity to show our own progress. A solid yellow and black shield logo for UMBC would pay homage to Baltimore City, where, despite our name, the school is technically located. As we ascend the rankings ladder and watch our athletic teams achieve seemingly impossible feats, UMBC needs to make itself recognizable and desirable for incoming classes.
Out-of-state applicants might not notice the school’s situation within city limits when faced with our suburban-feeling neighbors, Catonsville and Arbutus. With only one logo, we need to tell the story of our campus in a digestible way; by being deliberate in the aspects of our past that we choose to endorse and carry on for future generations, we send a message to future students — a message of contemporary inclusivity and the rejection of outdated values that do not align with our mission.