Every now and then I get an ‘alumni’ magazine through the post from a university I attended and it annoys me.
It annoys me because they are always pushing me to make a donation or gently hinting at a legacy payment after I’ve pegged it. I’ve asked to be taken off their mailing list but the ‘admins’ don’t listen and continue to press send.
I have no intention of making a donation or leaving a gift in my will so I “can help make the incredible happen, every day.”
What I am prepared to do though is correct their usage of ‘alumni’.
The University of Nottingham is not alone in their misunderstanding of the word and it’s a tad unfair of me to single them out but they do keep pestering me so I’m going to.
Why do they call it this?
According to one source (and plenty of others on top), alumni are….
“….people who previously attended or graduated from a particular school, college or university, or people who had a former association with the same organization.”
But alumni does not mean the former students of a college or university and those in our learned institutions have got it wrong.
- Alumnus refers to a male who has attended or is a graduate of a school, college or university.
- Alumni is the plural of alumnus and means more than one male former student.
- Alumna refers to a female former student.
- Alumnae is the plural of alumna and refers to more than one female student.
- There actually isn’t a word that describes both men and women.
But this is also a very binary look at the world and it’s diverse population so once again we see how far out of touch our universities are.
So as you can see, alumni is just a little bit sexist which in 2021 isn’t very good and certainly not for branding.
My former university use the term all the time yet their awkward admins recommend not using it in their branding style guide:
Try hard to avoid using these words, because not only do they make things awkward when it comes to gender, but they also make us look old-fashioned and a bit elitist.
Yes, not just old-fashioned and elitist but also sexist. That is ‘awkward’ is it not?!
In their advice about voice and tone the UoN says they are ‘refined, never fussy’:
We’re rigorous and scholarly: we appreciate evidence and precision. We value heritage, but we’re not sticklers for tradition. We strive for simplicity, even when communicating complex ideas.
Well, they aren’t very precise when it comes to their language. Their branding guide will no doubt be taken down soon.
The gender bias is plain to see yet sexism is still part of the ‘brand’. Very awkward.
If you are looking to ‘inject that University of Nottingham vibe into your words’ then their style guide will help you to sound crusty, elitist and a sexist.
Whoever is in charge of branding needs to get their act together. Presumably they get paid very well for this.
So, to all the schools, colleges and universities out there who say alumni, who exactly are you addressing?
UoN, it’s time for a rebrand and a clear-out of the deadwood. Sometimes you have to ‘speak out in order to make a difference’.