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Pride or Prejudice: The Marlborough crest in the 21st century

Graphic by Neve ’22

A black market exists at Marlborough. A bustling trade in vintage goods and bootleg merchandise. I’m talking, of course, about crest-fever. Students from all grades have spent hours slaving away on CustomInk.com, designing sweatshirts in vibrant purple emblazoned with a symbol of bygone Marlborough and rounding up groups of fellow students to place mass orders. It has been years since the crest graced the halls of the student store and yet the demand for Marlborough-crest-merch has not diminished. There is a wide range of sweatshirts, polos and cardigans available, yet why does this underground trade still thrive?

The old crest continues to hold a special place in the hearts of many upperclassmen and alumni. The crest’s classic aesthetic and its legacy at the school make it a particularly strong reference to our historical heritage. The crest even proudly references our founding in 1889. Considering that Marlborough was founded in the late 19th century, at a point when girls’ education was largely seen as frivolous and trite, that date ought to be something we take pride in. While in its infancy, St. Margaret’s School for Girls was almost certainly a flawed institution, Mary Caswell’s focus on girls’ education established a precedent that challenged the social mores of her time. Almost a hundred years later, in the early 2000’s Marlborough was pushing those boundaries once more, as the school shifted to highlighting STEM education, an academic specialty long neglected in girls’ education. However, today, the Marlborough website includes virtually no references to that legacy unless you specifically visit the “School History” page. How have we gone from boldly emblazoning our history on every piece of stationery, every polo and every hoodie to a few sparing references in the under-trafficked, dusty corners of our website? 

Instead, we are left with Sans Serif block letters and mustard yellow. More fitting for a Silicon Valley tech startup, our new “M” logo speaks to nothing more than the sterile, geometric world of Adobe graphic design. The Lakers-esque color choice, as well as its minimalist design, speak in no way to the illustrious history and unique qualities that make Marlborough an exceptionally distinctive school. In our attempt to somehow “modernize” (is Sans Serif font truly the hallmark of educational progressivism?) we have lost a valuable symbol of our history and an important reference to our legacy as pioneers in girls’ education. While perhaps the crest was due for an update, erasing this important symbol of our legacy does nothing to concretely promote progress at the school. Recognizing Marlborough’s history, flaws and all, allows us to address the enduring harms of the school’s past, rather than burying it under an aesthetic veneer of progress. In fact, making surface-level changes (like removing the crest) divorces Marlborough from its history in order to shift out of accountability and avoid recognition of the complex institutional legacy.  Blending important traditions, like the crest, with our vision for the Marlborough of the future acknowledges the academic legacy that makes us distinct while continuing our tradition as pioneers in girls’ education. 

Since 1889, when Mary Caswell first opened the doors to St. Margaret’s School for Girls, Marlborough has been a school deeply rooted in its long, complex history and a rich set of traditions. Yet increasingly it seems these traditions have come under fire in an effort to modernize Marlborough and bring the school into a new era of inclusivity, academic rigor and general progressivism. While certainly a general culture of introspectiveness and a critical evaluation of our history as a school is essential to improving as a community and continuing to “strive for excellence”, increasingly the cultural winds of the school seem to favor an un-nuanced erasing of history, tradition and legacy. Considering that Marlborough didn’t admit Black or Jewish students until the early 1970s, our history as an institution is far from perfect and certainly worthy of criticism. However, in our efforts to mold a more inclusive, forward-thinking community, we risk forgetting the significance of our origins as an integral part of what makes Marlborough so unique. Rather than attempting to forget the legacy of our former violets, Marlborough ought to strive to syncretize our historical roots with an unerring focus on progress, improvement and inclusivity. To fail to do so risks losing integral parts of our school’s history, while also disregarding Marlborough’s complicity in various socio-economic and racial inequalities. Failing to recognize this complicity allows the school to shift out of our institutional obligation to truly repair those ills. To truly be a school in which “Equity Leads Education” don’t we need to recognize our own role in perpetuating inequity in the first place?

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