Ithaca is gorges (gorgeous), but the Cornell image certainly is not. Despite moving from 13th to 12th in the US News rankings and discarding the ultra-modern red square logo, Cornell is still struggling to maintain its Ivy League reputation. Cornell was even featured in a New York Times article last spring because of its foundering image.
A fundamental aspect of the Cornell image is the student population. Whether on campus or off, students are the face of Cornell, especially when they wear items that bear the Cornell name. These items serve as an advertisement for the university; therefore, it is imperative that these items portray Cornell as the esteemed Ivy League institution that it is.
Every student owns more Cornell memorabilia than they can possibly wear, and every student has been exposed to all of these products as they went to the Cornell Store to purchase their books. Rather than feeling like they were walking into a campus store, it felt more like a tacky souvenir shop. The items in the Cornell Store apparently aim to advertise Cornell like a cheap theme park; these products are often more classless than Ivy League suitable, and tarnish Cornell’s image rather than improve it.
Cornell sweatshirts, the quintessential Cornell article of clothing, are now available in color combinations such as brown and pale pink, kelly green and pale pink, peach and yellow, fuchsia and navy, sky blue and white and violet and gray. It is striking that these are not Cornell colors; in addition, the color combinations are either reminiscent of other colleges or are generally obnoxious. Cornell has image issues, so why highlight them in neon? The same applies to tracksuits, t-shirts, tank tops, men’s polos and even hats. If Ezra Cornell had intended for the student body to wear such colors, then our school wouldn’t be the Big Red, but rather the Hot Pink.
Beyond just color, the designs of many of these articles do not agree with the real or ideal Cornell image. A men’s t-shirt bears a NASCAR-like logo, folders display images reminiscent of an antiquated Las Vegas street sign, one women’s t-shirt displays an image that attempts to mimic a vintage surf design and key chains display Hawaiian flowers. None of these motifs have any association to Cornell. If a student wanted a vintage inspired t-shirt, they could easily purchase one from Urban Outfitters or Abercrombie.
Even accessories, such as key chains and book-bags, come in distasteful colors and styles. Rubber key-chains are available in revolting neon colors, and many notebooks and folders come in pale pink and lime green. A bag with Cornell University embroidered across it is inspired by Longchamp in its design and Kate Spade in its stripes. Does Cornell really need to knock-off other designers in their attempt to sell school merchandise?
Ironically, the children’s clothing and the t-shirts adorning the stuffed animals are the only items that remain true to Cornell’s Ivy League heritage. The rest of the merchandise in the store should follow that lead and remain basic, Ivy League inspired, sophisticated, authentic to Cornell and within the range of Cornell’s colors. It would be easy to create a new line of Cornell gear that is fashionable, representative of Cornell and goes beyond the basics of a white t-shirt with red letters.
The Cornell store may be trying to expand its inventory in order to appeal to more students and thus increase profits. However, those dollars are being earned at the expense of Cornell’s image. Even Cornell flip-flops are available, again in strange colors like pale blue, pale pink and coral. Ironically, the wearer is literally stomping on Cornell’s name, which is printed conveniently into the heel, with every step.