As an AU student, do you ever find yourself apologizing for your choice of university? After explaining that you go to AU, do you brace yourself for puzzled looks and dumb-ass questions? (My favourite is, “Where is Athabasca University?”)
Perhaps anticipating awkward questions or the need to explain, some AU students keep their student status in the closet. It’s just easier. Astonishingly few people seem to understand, yes, it’s a real university with real students taking real courses working toward real degrees.
Students’ reticence to open up about Athabasca, however, just exacerbates the problem. Ignorance and misperceptions exist in an information vacuum. The more we share AU with others, the more others will understand AU. And, once they gain understanding, perhaps they’ll want to attend AU, too.
I’ve started taking AU out of my closet?literally. I have a couple of AU shirts I purchased from the UR Store, and one more is on the way. The shirts?three different styles, three different colours?were my little rewards for reaching AU milestones: to celebrate completing my first course, my first A+, and finishing a truly tortuous course.
The URstore is Athabasca University’s “Official Online Apparel Store.” They stock shirts, shorts, pants, and outerwear in men’s, women’s, and kid’s sizes. Most styles offer a variety of colours and logo designs. The URstore also has a line of AU accessories, including backpacks, sport bags, blankets, and umbrellas.
I wear my AU apparel for two reasons. First, wearing clothing with the AU logo helps other students come out of the closet. We students have very few ways of identifying each other, but if one student is wearing their school’s logo, it invites other students to connect with them. I’ve worn AU shirts in different social settings and the AU logo has sparked some interesting conversations with both students and non-students. I even discovered that someone I knew was taking courses at AU, too.
The second reason for wearing an AU shirt is to display pride in my school. The quality fabric, flattering styles, and snappy logo just scream quality education. Why would a student buy such apparel unless they valued the school whose logo graces it? Each time I wear an AU shirt I’m encouraging other people to check out AU, too.
Logo apparel is such an effective marketing tool, AU should consider giving each student?or at least each funding-critical Alberta student?a free shirt to increase enrolment. More students at AU means more courses, more programs, and greater sustainability. When I enrolled at a bricks and mortar university, I not only got a t-shirt, but a backpack full of swag. I haven’t even received a keychain or coffee mug from AU (yet.)
While you’re waiting for AU to contemplate this brilliant marketing strategy?if, indeed, they are even contemplating contemplating it?you can fill your closet with AU-wear on your own. Then take AU out of your closet and proclaim to the world that you are an AU student! You might be surprised to find who else you know has been waiting to come out of the AU closet, too.
To order AU apparel or accessories from the URstore, visit http://urstore.ca/schools/ca/alberta/athabasca/athabasca-university. For information on ordering, visit the FAQ page. Prices include taxes but not shipping; delivery to Canadian addresses only.
Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario. Follow Barbara on twitter @ThereGoesBarb.