Balk: Northwestern misfires on its ‘AND is in our DNA’ advertisement slogan


Tim Balk, Opinion Editor

With its current advertising campaign featuring the catchy transpositional slogan “AND is in our DNA,” Northwestern is publicly peddling an NU student stereotype of dynamic, overachieving multitaskers.

The advertisements are visually beautiful. But they also send a questionable message.

One iteration depicts the talented trio of Austin Carr, Caroline Niedospial and Tre Demps, all student-athletes, pursuing their passions on and off the field. Carr is a vocalist, Niedospial a student journalist and Demps an artist, and the advertisement suggests the three exceptional student-athletes are the norm at NU.

There’s a lot of truth in what is depicted. More than 60 percent of us graduate with a second major, minor or certificate, NU student-athletes graduate at among the highest rates in the nation and it seems nearly everyone on campus is in multiple clubs or activities. NU students’ dynamism and drive is, generally speaking, something to celebrate. Carr, Niedospial and Demps are all people worthy of reverence.

But there’s a darker underside to all this doubling up. There is a pervasive, pernicious pressure to overcommit and overextend at NU. NU students all too often feel the need to double or even triple major, to join or attain leadership positions in numerous clubs, to take endless classes (why take four when you can five?) and to fill every waking second with social, academic and professional advancement.

At NU, this Renaissance attitude often becomes distorted into a rat race to exhaustion. As great as it is to excel in multiple areas — and it truly is great — depicting the Austin Carrs of the world as the norm is to set all NU students up against an unrealistic benchmark. NU students should not feel the need to be doing numerous things at high levels simultaneously. One extracurricular activity, or just a few, is enough. School matters too, and what happens in the classroom is not always a breeze.

The “AND is in our DNA” slogan perpetuates an unhealthy message of excess in expertise. It’s truly not the message that should be sent to students or prospective students. Particularly at a school where overinvolvement and mental health issues are pervasive. NU students are certainly impressive, but we are also frequently under-rested and overworked. We too rarely slow down to savor and reflect upon this critical period of our lives.

Ours is a vibrant community filled with people with diverse talents. This should be advertised. Not the many of talents of individuals themselves. Particularly if such a diversity is presented as the norm.

AND is not necessarily in our DNA. For many of us, OR is in our DNA.

NU students are fantastic musicians or gifted actors or leaders or mathematicians. Often we are more than just that, excelling in numerous fields. But we shouldn’t feel the need to expand our resume to include skill upon skill upon skill. Specialization is valuable too. So is sleep. Happy and healthy are ANDs that matter too.

NU’s advertising generally is extremely well done. But the “AND is in our DNA” campaign is a misfire.

The goal at our school should not be to do the most. It should be to do our best, and to enjoy what we are doing.

More than overachievement and overcommitment binds the NU community together. We can find better aspects of our school to advertise and better ways to frame our advertisements.

Tim Balk is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.