Self-Defined, Self-Designed

by Kate Lindsay '06

I love advertisements. For most, ads are an ignorable nuisance—something to laugh about, but nothing to take seriously.When commercials flicker before me, I think about their target audience, the images that inspire consumption, and the careful branding that goes into color, font style, syntax, and wardrobe. I buy magazines for their ads. I brake for billboards. I am ad-obsessed.

Upon arriving at Scripps, I knew I wanted to learn more than how to create my preferred medium. I wanted to learn how ad messages are encoded and decoded, why Apple’s branding extends from its print publications to its store layouts, and, most important, the ways advertising affects our psyche, culture, and society.

These interests do not fall into a single traditional major. As a psychology major, I might have had a refined understanding of advertising’s effect on emotion and mental health, but had little opportunity to investigate advertisements as consumerist texts. If I had chosen studio art, I would have an impressive portfolio, but I would lack research skills and an understanding of the sophisticated theory surrounding advertising, art, and consumerism. So, rather than choose a major that satisfied only some of my curiosity, I dove into an uncharted territory—I self-designed.

I designed my major, commercial communication and design, my sophomore year with the help of a committed and inspiring professor, Susan Rankaitis. My major is the definition of interdisciplinary—combining psychology, sociology, anthropology, studio art and art history, linguistics, writing, cultural studies, media studies, politics, and journalism. Being between departments and disciplines, I have the freedom to take classes in many departments, meeting students of various majors and with various areas of expertise. These friends inform my studies as my professors do, showing how diversity in education can enrich the quality of a student’s experience (and diploma).

Scripps challenges all its seniors to complete a senior thesis paper or project before graduation. I opted to do both. My thesis, which explores advertising’s shift from textual to visual messages using a critical perspective, is complemented with a gallery exhibition that tests the practicality of my solutions and observations.This solo exhibition features my friends displaying parts of their body they find unique and beautiful.The project,”Advertising Reality,” evaluates the line between commercial objectification and empowerment.

Students have approached me about using my major for their own studies here at Scripps.While I’m flattered at the idea and love discussing my self-design experience, the great thing about self-designing is that you have the ability (and responsibility) to tailor your education to you. At a large university, this experience may not exist. But for Scripps students, with enthusiastic professors and an accommodating self-design program, the opportunity for custom education is freeing.

The design process, too, contributed to my Scripps education.While I had a faculty member’s help and support, designing my major was an independent experience, requiring that I set my own deadlines, make important decisions, and approach professors and administrators to ask questions, follow-up, and get advice.

This semester, I will graduate in front of my professors and alongside my peers. But, my diploma will mean more than years of hard work and determination. Rather, it symbolizes the independence and individuality I discovered during my time at Scripps.

I can envision the commercial I might make to “sell” my experience in Scripps’ self-design program: Fade into a welldecorated office. The walls are a light, avocado green, complementing a cherry desk with a slim computer perched on top. A woman, wearing a tailored suit, sits with her legs crossed and tucked underneath her. Her brows furrow and her bare feet wiggle as she types, her physicality resembling that of a studying college student. She pauses and lifts her head. Fade into a montage of the woman’s college memories: getting a slip signed at the registrar’s office, the woman huddled over a laptop on Bowling Green lawn, an animated discussion with a professor, and her major proposal getting stamped to read “approved.” Fade back to the office. The camera leaves the woman, following the wall past dry-erase boards covered in campaign ideas, a Mobius award for excellence in advertising, and a framed diploma from Scripps College, ultimately resting on the working woman. Fade to gray. Text appears on the sceen, reading, “Self-motivated. Self-defined. Selfdesigned. Explore your excellence with self-designed majors at Scripps College. Strong women, strong minds.”