United or divided: The United College rebranding


Staff and students gathered outside St. Paul’s on Sept. 24, 2022, to formally announce the name change and unveil the new sign, which now reads ‘United College.’ As a student who has been living at St Paul’s University College for nearly three years, the rebranding was a surprise to me. Supposedly it had been in the works for a long time, yet it had never reached my ears, and this is a sentiment that many current students share. That, in itself, is one of the many reasons why I cannot support the rebrand to United College.

This residence community is my second home, so much so that I have taken to calling it ‘home’ absentmindedly at times. For eight months of the year, I am surrounded by a tight-knit community, and I live in a space that is comfortable, private and close to my classes. I have been given opportunities to become involved in clubs and leadership initiatives, and I have forged some great friendships while living here, which is why I returned for my third year. 

As evident by both its previous and current names, the College once held a religious affiliation with the United Church of Canada. Over the last couple of decades, the College has gradually shifted away from its religious history, and while living here, I have noticed that there is no indication that religion is a value to the College. Personally, as someone who was raised agnostic and is quite neutral to most religions, I am unbothered by this. ‘St. Paul’s’ is certainly a name that suggests a religious affiliation, but I can tell you confidently that the College is much more invested in other endeavours, so my questions were assuaged shortly after moving in during my first year. 

I am, however, bothered by the name ‘United College.’ The name change was intended to signify the College’s official move away from the United Church, yet it goes without saying that it still sounds religious. It is not the religious affiliation itself that bothers me, but the fact that the name seems counter-intuitive to the College’s intentions and goals. When the College first opened its doors, its name was ‘St. Paul’s United College,’ so not only are they picking a name that still holds a clear connection to the Church, but it regresses the College to its roots. 

The new motto of the College is ‘Bringing People Together,’ and that might be true, for I have yet to hear from a single student who supports the rebrand. The attitudes are largely negative, with students feeling like they were not considered or consulted before the decision was made. The official colours — once green and brown to acknowledge the large population of environment students who live at the College each year — have changed to blue and black. 

This poses some architectural design challenges, as the interior of the College follows the old colour scheme, and the newest wing of the College — an undergraduate residence wing built in 2016 — is called the Green Wing. 

The new typeface, logo (a blue ‘U’), and name do not hold the same feel as ‘St. Paul’s University College.’ The new aesthetic choices remind me of a charitable organization such as UNESCO or UNICEF or even something more corporate, such as a food distributor like Unilever. It lacks creativity, personality and heart, and frankly, I am not looking forward to seeing the walls painted blue and black.

Aside from the trivial complaints, I do consider the implications of such a rebrand within the context of its goals and what the College stands for. The College is home to the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre and the Indigenous Studies Minor. In its official list of values, justice for Indigenous peoples is listed second. On the field lies the ceremonial fire grounds, and on either side of the building stands multiple totem poles. The College seems to care about its Indigenous students, so their desire to move away from the United Church — one of the many churches in Canada that funded residential schools — is justifiable on those grounds. However, the name is supposed to represent all students and staff in the college, and it’s supposed to symbolize unity and diversity, yet it so clearly continues to pay homage to its religious heritage. Students were not consulted or notified of the change ahead of time — it was simply made. I have to ask how much of their commitment to social justice is there to uphold their reputation and how much of it is genuine. The rebranding could have given them an opportunity to work with the Indigenous Student Centre, or Indigenous staff and students generally, to choose a name that demonstrated a connection to the land on which the College is situated and its supposed passion for justice. 

For example, the creek that runs through campus, just a stone’s throw from the College, is called Laurel Creek. Personally, I think that Laurel Creek University College sounds beautiful. Such a name can also be tied to its population of environment students; the College, located just across the creek from EV3, houses approximately 400 students each year, and more than half belong to the faculty of environment. Alternatively, they could have opened the floor to students to suggest names and other ideas so that the students feel consulted and represented. The College is not just an educational institution — it is home to many, such as myself. However, this rebranding reminds us that the College is still a business, and decisions will be made by those with the greatest authority and influence. 

Granted, change can be hard for people to accept, but there are ways to mitigate this. When the vast majority of students whom the College claims to ‘represent’ and ‘include’ are ignored during the proposal and planning period of the rebranding and left feeling sardonic and unsatisfied, one has to ask themselves: who does the rebranding actually serve? What is the benefit? Who are you representing — the elusive Board of Directors or the student body who work and volunteer every day to turn the College into a home?