York’s interdisciplinary message goes underground

The Monday morning commute looked and sounded very different for people travelling through the St. George subway station in downtown Toronto. At 7am yesterday, the station was transformed into a mini York University campus. A crowd of highly energized York student volunteers coupled with signature York red-and-white advertising messages provided an early morning jolt to sleep-dazed commuters.

Right: The York message on the St. George subway platform

The St. George subway station, one of the busiest TTC junctions and the last change point to go north to York, was chosen as the backdrop for a major campaign which officially launched yesterday. Student supporters offered commuters York-branded Metropass holders with information about the University and buttons that promoted the subway extension to York. Every possible surface on every level seemed covered with a York banner, and all of the platforms’ display advertising space carried the York message of interdisciplinary excellence.

The “station domination” of St. George, which will run for at least a month, is a key part of York’s effort to drive home its key messages to audiences in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Foremost is York’s new reputational advertising campaign which represents the first-ever fully integrated advertising campaign by a Canadian university.

Left: Members of the student volunteer team following the subway domination

The campaign is designed to position York as a different kind of academic institution, one that offers a modern, interdisciplinary approach to study and research during a period when most students and parents choose a university. In addition to the subway promotion, intriguingly-written print advertisements are also appearing in major daily newspapers and education publications, explaining the significance of interdisciplinary research to address complex societal issues. Prospective students are challenged in the ads to consider interdisciplinary studies at York.

St. George greeters Keara Ellis, a second-year communications and sociology student, and Melanie Niculescu, a first-year psychology student, agreed wholeheartedly with the messages launched on May 3. “I think this is a great idea and a great way to get the message across,” said Ellis. “The experience and the culture at York are great and people need to know about us.”

Niculescu said, “I love York and the multicultural aspect of the campus is what drew me to York. There are plenty of extracurricular activities that you can choose and York is a fantastic place to study.”

Right: York students Keara Ellis (left) and Melanie Niculescu

Another warm supporter was York alumnus Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Television’s “Play”, who served as master of ceremonies at a media conference yesterday at the Duke of York pub near the station. Ghomeshi recounted how York’s interdisciplinary approach to study gave him an opportunity to pursue many different interests that helped prepare him for a career as a broadcaster, journalist, musician and commentator. He graduated in 1995 with a BA in political science and history.

“I was the interdisciplinary poster boy and I draw on my experience at York for what I do, and in fact it is a big part of what I do,” said Ghomeshi. “I feel that it is particularly progressive to start developing humans in a postsecondary institution who have a broad breadth of backgrounds and interests. 

“This campaign rings true for me,” he said. “The days of the one-track career are over. More than ever, a diverse liberal arts background can lead to careers like mine.”

Left: (Left to right) Ted Spence, Richard Fisher, Jian Ghomeshi and Lorna R. Marsden

Lorna R. Marsden, York president & vice-chancellor, explained that the campaign message is directed to students, both current and those contemplating study at a university in 2004. “This campaign is for students,” she said. “Its purpose is to raise awareness of York in the community and to encourage students to come to York and take pride in the University and its unique qualities. This is an opportunity to shape perception of York University. We chose to do that in a bold and innovative way.”

Richard Fisher, chief communications officer, outlined the details of the campaign, prepared by the doug agency of Toronto. “This campaign is about being an interdisciplinary university where we question every angle, innovate and break down traditional boundaries,” said Fisher. “York brings together thinkers from every discipline and also allows students to combine majors in completely different fields. That is an important part of the York U difference.

“Most universities communicate with big pictures of students and buildings,” said Fisher. “We have tried to get at what it is our university brings to our students.”

The event also highlighted York’s enormous economic contribution to the GTA and reinforced the message to government of the need for an extension of the Spadina subway line to York’s Keele campus and north of Steeles Avenue.Ted Spence, York’s senior policy advisor & executive director, Institutional Research and Analysis, outlined York’s economic impact, noting that the Keele campus is the largest single post-secondary campus in Canada. York students spent $268 million in the GTA in 2002-2003, he said. “Eighty-eight per cent of York students and 90 per cent of faculty live in the GTA,” said Spence. “Together, they and our alumni contribute more than $3.4 billion to the economy. York’s at the centre of the GTA and our growth continues to reflect the growth of this region.

“We are a major transportation hub, a major transit hub and the only one in Toronto without a direct link to the subway,” said Spence. “We are very pleased Toronto has embarked on an environmental assessment for a subway to York. We are also pleased because we think we are the top priority for a subway expansion in Toronto. We hope we remain the top priority.”

Student Ellis firmly agrees. “It is important that the message gets out that students need a subway to York,” she said as she handed out York information. “I travel through the St. George station every day from my home and a subway extension would make the commute so much better. I really hope it happens.”

For the next month, at least, it will be hard for anyone passing through the station to forget that York, in all its interdisciplinary glory, is just up the line.


Left: One of the banners carrying the York message on the St. George subway platform