Uni logo reaction disappoints iwi representative

Ngāi Tahu representative Suzanne Ellison says she is happy with the University of Otago’s new...
Ngāi Tahu representative Suzanne Ellison says she is happy with the University of Otago’s new logo and new Māori name. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
An iwi representative who advised the University of Otago over its logo change is disappointed in the level of negative reaction it has gained.

The university last week announced it was going ahead with its rebranding saying almost three-quarters of those involved in the consultation process supported the change.

The move, which involves the introduction of an "O"-shaped tohu (symbol) as the university’s main logo, also generated a backlash from the public.

University council iwi representative Suzanne Ellison worked alongside a group of mana whenua who helped advise the university on their new branding.

Ms Ellison stressed her role in the new branding was merely to support the university as mana whenua.

She had some trepidation over becoming involved in the project as she feared mana whenua would get pushback for what was a university decision.

"I felt like we would become the targets of dissenting voices and actually it’s the university trying to do something here."

She was happy with the result and disappointed at the level of opposition to the change.

"We’ve got to question ourselves when we have a gut reaction to something, but we haven’t taken the time to really find out about it."

She thought the new logo brought the university into the present.

"[The old logo] speaks of another time, another place, it doesn’t really speak of being in the South Pacific, of being in Aotearoa or Te Waipounamu, so an opportunity to rethink — that seemed like a good thing to me."

She was comfortable the old crest — which would still be used in many places including on certificates — still had a place and that the university’s English name remained prominent.

"I think it’s important that we work with our community as much as possible, so I’m really happy that ‘University of Otago’ is prominent."

Ms Ellison said the university’s decision to change the branding was initially a response to difficulties around using the old branding in digital media due to its various fonts and styles.

The university contacted Ms Ellison and other Ngāi Tahu representatives in 2018. Creative director Anzac Tasker and artist Ephraim Russell helped conceptualise the new logo. They were later introduced to a larger team of artists who reshaped their ideas.

The logo was said to represent the flow of water into Dunedin’s harbour.

"I think it’s about endeavour and the Ōtākou channel and that big movement out, the dispersal, and the sweep in."

To Ms Ellison it represented "ideas and people connecting across the Pacific".

The new Māori name "Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka" which translated to "A place of many firsts", was created for the university by Ngāi Tahu members Megan Pōtiki and Paulette Tamati-Elliffe.

"I think we’ve done well for the university, we’ve given them something special," Ms Ellison said.

She hoped the new branding would be a "visual sign" for new and present Māori students that the university was a place that "values them, what they stand for and who they are".