Heraldry lives! Students answer the call to arms

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DuBois College House

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Harnwell College House

Stouffer arms

Stouffer College House

The ancient art of representing a family’s history and character through the use of symbols has been dusted off and put into the service of another history-making project — Penn’s new college house system.

And the students who have designed these new “family crests” have shown inventiveness and creativity in designing coats of arms for the houses.

Take Nicole Joseph’s (C’02) winning design for Stouffer College House, which acknowledges the heritage of the person whose name the house bears, Vernon Stouffer (W’23) of the famous Cleveland food family. The motto — “Nihil domo similior” — is a Latin version of Stouffer Foods’ advertising slogan, “Nothing comes closer to home.” The runner-up design took things one step further: it depicted a lion eating a frozen meal bursting forth from a microwave.

While that runner-up was perhaps a bit over the top, it was in keeping with the spirit of the competition set up by the College Houses and Academic Services staff.

The staff envisioned each house as having a distinct character, even if three houses were in identical buildings and four others shared one in common. But the team also knew that it would be the students themselves who gave each house its identity.

So when it came time to symbolize those identities, they made the logical choice.

“All of us were trying to think of visual imagery” to represent each college house, said Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee. “At first we thought, Let’s us think up designs! Then we thought, maybe it would be more meaningful if we let the students who are making these houses come up with the ideas.”

So the project morphed into a coat-of-arms competition for each college house. House deans encouraged students to submit designs for crests to be used like a corporate logo. To help them along, Sue Smith, associate director of communications for the Office of College Houses and Academic Services, compiled what Brownlee called “an astonishingly complete” guide to heraldry, with explanations of the meanings of hundreds of items and colors and some sample Latin mottoes.

Students were also advised that they could incorporate elements of Penn’s own coat of arms or the arms of the families for whom some of the houses are named. Only Stouffer’s shield, so far, has referred to its house namesake.

Perhaps because it’s one of Penn’s own colors, blue — which represents truth and loyalty in traditional heraldry — appears in every one of the shields selected so far. Most of them also incorporate Penn’s other color, red — which stands for strength and magnanimity.

So far, seven house shields have been approved by the judging committee, including one for Harnwell College House designed by a committee member, Kei Yamamoto (C’01), who resigned to submit his design. An eighth, for Hill College House, is now being refined to fit the basic format for all the House shields, and four houses — Community, Gregory, Harrison and King’s Court/English — have yet to submit entries.


Originally published on November 30, 2000