On April 26, 2018, at the end of the spring semester, a new sign, reading “SIENA” was unveiled to the campus. The interactive sculpture, a project sponsored and funded by the Marketing and Communications Office, was met with a variety of polarized responses.
Taking to social media, students expressed negative reactions to the sign, questioning its utility, location and attractiveness. By the end of the day, there were two responses to the students’ reactions. The Marketing and Communications Office sent out an email by the end of the day stating the purpose and reasoning behind the interactive sculpture. In this email, Marketing and Communications stated, “The project is nearly 10-months in the making. Several rounds of designs and campus locations were considered. The final version was developed in consultation with various members of the community, including students, faculty and staff. The location was selected because of its high visibility and the poor condition of the land – a combination that provided the perfect opportunity to liven up one of the more used, yet difficult to maintain spaces on campus…There is landscaping and lighting work scheduled over the coming weeks to ensure the sculpture settles into its new home and surroundings.” The landscaping and lighting work was performed over the summer, obscuring the view of the back of the sign from the Paddock and adding a path to reach the sign.
The Student Senate, although not responsible for the sign, was also quick to respond to the overwhelming reactions to the sculpture. Justin Gaines ’19, Student Senate President, communicated this, saying, “Student Senate created and sent out a petition in order to quantify the opinions and feelings from the students about the sign. From that survey it was very clear to us what the students wanted. We immediately got to work and created a strategy that would address the students concerns most effectively.” This survey received a total of 1033 responses, with 975 of them from students attending Siena in the spring 2018 semester. The survey results paint an overwhelmingly negative picture of the sign. On questions asking about the sign’s appearance, location and fit with the “Siena image,” responses from students among all class years yielded negative Net Promoter Scores. Among the additional suggestion comments in the survey, a common theme emerged with students expressing that the sculpture does not fit with the overall look and aesthetic of Siena. Commenting on the student reactions to the sign, Gaines states, “Current and previous students expressed their opinions in the survey — an overwhelming majority said that the sign either needed to be moved or removed.”
Marketing and Communications recognizes these negative reactions. In email correspondence with the Promethean, Jason Rich ’98, Director of Marketing and Communications, articulates, “We’re certainly aware that many students still have negative feelings about the sculpture. First impressions are critical, and in our haste to move things along, we didn’t handle the roll out well at all.” It was also pointed out that the survey was conducted and finished before the project (including the surrounding landscaping) had been completed. Reactions to the sign once the full project was finished seem to be considerably better. Rich states, “Since the project was finalized over the summer, engagement with the sculpture has exceeded expectations. Alumni were among the first to enjoy it during Reunion Weekend, it has become a focal point of the admissions tour route, and, perhaps most important, there were lines of current freshman and their families waiting to take pictures with it throughout Move-In Day. Returning students deserved the opportunity to have that initial experience too.” Indeed, many Instagram and Snapchat stories featuring the Siena sign positively can be found. Emma Henderschedt ’19 says, “I love everything about the Siena sign and feel that it truly embodies the school spirit that Siena saints have! I have easily taken at least 15 different photos in front of the sign. The saddest thing about living in the townhouses is that I don’t get to see the sign from my dorm window.”
The sign was ideated and pitched as a way for prospective, current and former students to tell their Siena story. Marketing and Communications described the interactive sculpture as more than just an asset to the campus; it creates a backdrop that allows students to tell their story. Rich expressed to the Promethean, “The College’s current Strategic Plan (Tradition. Transformed. 2017-2022) challenges us to find innovative ways to better share the Siena story. In addition to continuing the transformation of Lonnstrom Landing into a hub of activity on campus, the interactive sculpture is designed to provide an experiential backdrop for our (present, past and future) community to share moments and memories.”
Besides general reactions and thoughts about the sign itself, another concern expressed by some students is a possible lack of student feedback in the process of implementation. However, the email sent out by Marketing and Communications to the Siena community in April also stated, “The final sculpture design was ultimately presented to the Student Senate and the President’s Cabinet. The Student Senate provided very positive feedback and asked if the project could be sped up to allow for delivery by Senior Week and Commencement.” Marketing and Communications also claims that other students were also consulted in the process about an integral change to the campus. Rich states, “Student feedback was an essential component in a comprehensive, open, year-long process that engaged many stakeholders across the Siena community. We held ad hoc focus groups with tour guides and student workers, met with Student Life leadership, and made a formal presentation to the Student Senate. Each of these activities was designed to engage the student voice and to provide an opportunity and forum to encourage reaction and observations.” The voices of these students obviously did not mirror the concern of those who took to social media to critique the sign.
In discussing the sign with the Promethean, representatives of Student Senate dispute that they provided positive feedback and asked for the project to be sped up. Gaines articulated, “Student Senate was presented the finished project on Nov. 7, 2017, but we did not play a role in creating the sign. During this presentation, we were not asked our opinions or what we believe the students would think of this idea.” In reviewing the tapes of the Student Senate meeting where the presentation occurred, it is clear that a question about the timeline of the project was asked, but the Office was not asked directly by the Student Senate to move the project up.
Student Senate did meet with Marketing and Communications to express student concerns. “One proposed idea that Senate recommended was to move the sign to behind left field of the baseball field,” stated Gaines. This is supported by the survey, where a large majority of respondents expressed that the best location for the statue was somewhere beside the current location. Popular options suggested the sign would be better located near the MAC or athletic fields. Among those who suggested selected the “other” location choice, getting rid of the sign altogether was a common sentiment. While a number of locations were considered as part of the process, Marketing and Communications holds that moving the location once built was not going to address the concerns put forth in the survey conducted by Student Senate.
Despite the vocal negative feedback and initial controversy, there have also been positive responses to the sign. There have been many posts on social media with students enthusiastically posing with the sign. According to Marketing and Communications, the sign has received at least 50,000 views across social media platforms and followers are engaging with content with the sign at a rate of 17.55 percent. New students, who lined up to take pictures with the sculpture on move-in day, seem to be big fans, eager to show their Siena pride. “I liked when the ‘I’ was missing, it was fun for pictures,” comments Emily Manfred ’22.
Whether positive or negative, the sign certainly has generated a lot of buzz and students continue to have polarizing opinions. While the sign seems like it is here to stay for the long run, how it will play a part in Siena’s story remains to be seen.
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