With celebrations and odes to Christopher Columbus across the United States coming under attack in the past week, discussions surrounding the use of Native American imagery as part of organizational branding have emerged once again. But for the Olentangy Local School District (OLSD), which includes multiple schools that currently use such imagery as part of its branding, those discussions have been ongoing well before last week’s denouncement of Columbus, and changes are in the works.
Last April, OLSD unveiled a rebranding initiative that included a new district logo, accompanied by a tagline of “Flourish Here.” Krista Davis, director of communications for OLSD, said the district rebranding last year was only “phase one” of a multi-phase project that then shifted to the rebranding of all schools following the first phase.
“When I came on board, this was definitely one of my biggest projects to tackle, our brand identity from top to bottom,” Davis said of the entire rebranding initiative by the district. “Wanting to move past, from a district standpoint, what was basically a circle with two silhouetted figures that really didn’t say anything about who we were as district. We didn’t have any words that could be used to consistently talk about who we were. So, that’s where our “Flourish Here” tagline came in.”
In the individual school buildings, Davis said she wants each one to have its own unique identity while still falling under the district’s “One Olentangy” umbrella.
The district has been working on the project for more than a year, although there have been some delays in progress.
“We have 26 buildings, so it’s a pretty extensive project,” Davis said. “Throw in a pandemic and we got a little behind where we wanted to be with the project.”
Among the top goals Davis said the district wants to accomplish as part of the reimaging is to “address the Native American imagery” used in some school logos “without necessarily changing the names of the mascots.”
Most notable within the district is the logo used at Olentangy High School (OHS), which features the head of a Native American within a blue and yellow “Block O.”
Asked about OHS, nicknamed the “Braves,” Davis said the school will still retain its nickname. She added the focus of the rebranding process is on addressing imagery such as the Native American head within the logo. Other schools within the district, such as the Liberty Middle School Warriors and Shanahan Middle School Scouts, also feature Native American logos.
Davis said the district has completed mascots for the elementary schools, which are scheduled to be revealed by the school principals in August. Work is currently underway on the middle school projects, Davis said, with brand project teams from each of the five middle schools participating. She said the hope is that those schools will be able to reveal the results “in the early fall.”
Once the middle school projects are finished, Davis said the district will then move on to the high school projects.
In addition to addressing the use of Native American imagery, Davis said OLSD is also tackling the issue of trademark infringements that exist throughout the district. As has become commonplace in schools throughout the country, OLSD currently has several schools that use logos closely associated with the trademarked logos of college programs or professional organizations.
The most distinguishable example within OLSD is the use of the “Block O” with the arching name overlay that is a registered trademark of The Ohio State University. Davis said the district is moving away from the “Block O” as part of the rebranding. Asked if the district has ever reached out to the university about use of the “Block O,” Davis said it has, but Ohio State is “very protective of their marks, as they should be.”
Davis said the district is planning to launch a licensing program to ensure its logos remain unique to the district, and while Ohio State has not been demanding in any way in regards to changing the logo, the district would be unable to license the logos as its own.
Other examples of infringement within the district include the spear and feather used at Olentangy High School, which is trademarked by Florida State University, and a New England Patriots logo sometimes used in association with Olentangy Liberty athletics. Davis said the script font used by Olentangy Orange is also a focal point of the rebranding, because the University of Florida uses the exact font with its athletic programs and has the script “Gators” logo trademarked.
While the high school phase of the rebranding initiative has not yet begun, Davis said those schools will be moving away from those logos whenever the project gets underway.
“For me, personally, I’m not comfortable using trademarked imagery and logos knowing that they belong to someone else,” Davis said. “So, that’s really my motivation. I just don’t feel like that’s very ethical.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.