I am a proud graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Class of 2007. I have been pleased to see the growing partnership with Middlebury College take root, and I am glad to see a widespread marketing campaign for the first time that I recall (or at least one that is reaching my eyeballs). Now I work in digital marketing, so I know that a lot of thought has gone into the digital ad campaign seen at left. Surely this image has been tested and analyzed and proven to be the most effective. I have, however, had some reservations about the photo that has been central to this campaign.
I don’t know if this photo is only being used in the San Francisco Bay Area or if it’s national. I am sure that the Bay Area is full of educated, well-travelled, idealistic young people who would be ideal candidates for the largest school within the Institute, the Graduate School of International Policy Studies. Nevertheless, you may never know by looking at this picture that 40% of MIIS students are international. They study at the Institute for two years and then return to their home countries to apply the skills they’ve acquired during their Master’s. I know it’s unrealistic to expect a locally targeted ad campaign to highlight this kind of student, but the ad featuring IPS Class of 97′s Richard Crothers is rich in symbols. These symbols, I suppose, are meant to appeal to a certain prospective student.
But peruse the excellent blog Gurl Goes to Africa for a primer on the history of people from the Global North (U.S.+Europe) seeking redemption on the African continent. You don’t need to be Colonel Kurtz to know that. Examine the pictures on the Gurl Goes to Africa blog for a moment- the picture of privileged white people showing their friends back home how remarkably human the Africans are, the images of condescending Western attitudes (look, they’ve never seen a camera before!), and ask yourself if the photo of Crothers with the young African children isn’t meant to appeal to this same desire. If you want to help the little African kids, then perhaps a MIIS education is for you.
I encourage the Monterey Institute, my alma mater, to take a critical look at the use of the tired trope of the white savior in Africa not to denigrate the work of IPS graduates in the field, or of Mr. Crothers in particular. I applaud their work; what they do makes me proud to be a graduate of this fine institution. I merely criticize this image, of the many that could have been used. Again, I imagine that, as with any digital ad campaign, it has been fine-tuned, and this image has simply been found the most effective. Yet I would encourage the Monterey Institute of International Studies to test out a different photo. They could perhaps feature the story of Maame Afon, Class of ’05, featured on the MIIS website. She is pictured with young African girls like herself. Would such an image prove as successful for MIIS as the one currently being used? I would be curious to know.