Campus Free Speech

Mount Holyoke, a Women's College, Can't Find a Logo Gender Neutral Enough to Please Its Trans Students

The Venus symbol "has a long history of exclusion... represents the erasure of others."


Screenshot via Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke is a women's liberal arts college in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Consistent with our modern understanding that the term "woman" includes those who were not born with female sex characteristics, the school has, for several years now, also admitted transwomen.

This has created one unexpected issue: Trans activist students and their allies are fighting a proposed new logo for the school, which resembles the symbol for Venus when turned on its side.

Vice President Charles Greene apologized recently for proposing a logo that "represents the erasure of others," and announced that administrators were going back to the drawing board:

Guided by initial discussions with trustees, graduates, faculty, staff, alumnae and students, our partners also thought it important to express the important role that women's colleges have played in exploring issues of gender, particularly with regard to populations that have typically been marginalized in society.

This past Thursday, we had the occasion to solicit feedback on the design firm's identity work from a group of students. We listened to feedback regarding the use of the Venus symbol as an option for the brand identity and logo, as proposed by the consultants. It is now evident to us that this symbol has a long history of exclusion connected to movements that, while trailblazing for some groups, represents the erasure of others.

We have thus determined that the College cannot move forward with a word mark that references this symbol as we rethink how we will distinguish Mount Holyoke College. While it is always disappointing to realize that our creative work has not achieved its goals, it is deeply upsetting to realize that the work is seen as offensive and damaging.

Call me crazy, but a slightly disguised reference to the Venus sign seems like a good way to acknowledge Mount Holyoke's history as a women's college—to acknowledge that it is a campus for all people who identify as women, even though our understanding of what it means to be a woman has evolved. Some students did not agree, however. Greene maintained that he is committed to demonstrating the college's "support for the diversity of genders and perspectives," although that may prove to be a difficult task.

In response to this story, The College Fix makes an apt comparison to Greendale Community College's completely inoffensive, gender- and race-non-specific joke mascot on NBC's Community: the Greendale Human Being. (Warning: the mascot is terrifying.)