Downing College: Anti Racism

The District

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Downing College is a college built on its values of scholarship, curiosity, community, integrity and kindness. These five qualities lie at the heart of their academic mission and community vision.

And in 2022 they were rocked when on social media it was revealed that a small minority of college members were presenting racist behaviours. Not unsurprisingly, given their ethos, the senior management team decided they needed to act. Firstly they commissioned a college wide survey to understand the extent of the issue. Armed with the results, which unequivocally revealed there was work to be done, the next step was to communicate the college’s commitment to inclusivity. We were briefed to do just that. The brief was very open. The response needed to not just articulate this commitment, but to drive attitudinal and behavioural change.

Following the development of an identity, the campaign was applied across social media and key strategic poster sites around the college and in the city emphasising the college’s commitment in the community. The campaign was also applied across the college’s website.

Given that the ambition of the brief was to drive attitudinal and more importantly behavioural change we put the verbal at the heart of this campaign. This was particularly important given that much of the negativity surrounding the college was about language. Specifically the use of microaggressions. With the primary messaging we effectively held up a mirror to the objectives of the brief by developing a slogan, come call to arms, ACKNOWLEDGE IT, UNDERSTAND IT, REPORT IT. This took the audiences on the journey the college wanted them to go on, from at the very basic level admitting there is an issue, to understanding the intricacies of it, and driven by Angela Davis´s quote “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist” we created a call to arms for people to not just ignore racism but to call it out.

Further down the messaging hierarchy in collaboration with the college students we explored commonly experienced micro-aggressions in a bid to educate. The campaign was punctuated with a singularly positive and broad message ‘Welcome to Downing. Everyone.’ This deliberately transcends all forms of prejudice.

The concept which was led by the verbal was applied with a range of typographic and abstract photographic approaches. The approach to the Microaggressions play with them to create a hectic typographic metaphor for the person perpetually subjected to such aggressions. Photographically rather than dealing with hackneyed images of inclusivity we abstracted people to support simple typography.

Engagement across the college and city was incredibly positive and it has stimulated a further piece of research into microaggressions and the development of a reporting mechanism at the college. ‘Welcome to Downing. Everyone.’ will now underpin wider inclusivity campaigns including Pride Week and International Women’s Day.

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