T.O.A.D.: The Overuse of Acronyms at DeSales
By Stephen Faleski
Every summer, DeSales University offers middle school and high school students of Hispanic descent the unique opportunity to advance their education through hands-on learning. Specifically through a program that was once known as the Hispanic Initiative.
According to Chanel Greene, Director of Multicultural Life, it was changed to DREAMS, a title originally intended to be an acronym for DeSales Reinforcing Education Among Multicultural Students. That has since changed to the non-acronymic version “The Dreams Program: Where inspiration is transformed into action.”
However, this article is not about DREAMS, or even about the name change. It is about the fact that this situation is only the latest occurrence of DeSales University’s trend to use vague acronyms to describe campus programs and events where a simple two or three word title would suffice.
Because of this tendency, students looking for an on-campus activity or community service event may need to start keeping dictionaries and thesauruses next to their student activity calendars. Some campus programs use titles that have become vague, cumbersome, and unserious for the sake of forming an acronym.
In terms of seriousness, acronyms are often little better than text messaging phrases such as “lol” or “idk.” Considering that the curriculum at DeSales University is designed to ensure students know how to present clear, concise, serious statements in writing, one might think the administration would attempt to lead by its own example, and reduce its dependency on acronyms.
According to Penny Savakis, Director of Public Relations, using an acronym to describe a program or organization can be beneficial at times, but in some cases can cause confusion.
“I think some acronyms are very clever and creative, and some are very straightforward & helpful. Of course, there are cases in general, beyond DeSales, where acronyms may cause confusion because they don’t seem to relate to the name or the mission of the program,” said Penny Savakis, Director of Public Relations. “The important thing is the program itself.”
Another example of the acronym trend occurred approximately one month ago, when Campus Ministry began another program to explore the spirituality of St. Francis DeSales, called WWDD What Would DeSales Do? This is not to be confused with WDSR DSU’s Internet radio station.
According to Maggie Riggins, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry, “The program ‘WWDD - What would DeSales Do?’ is a play on the popular Christian bumper sticker ‘WWJD?’ - What would Jesus do?” Riggins also mentioned FISH as another recent Campus Ministry program that utilizes an acronym to attract the attention of students. FISH stands for “Faith In SHaring.”
In spite of the good intentions of DeSales’ on-campus programs, attempts to create catchy and abbreviated titles often only result in confusion as to the program’s purpose. “I think I usually try to come up with a title that is somewhat interesting, familiar or intriguing that also explains what the program is,” Riggins said. “My hope in using acronyms is to create a ‘brand’ so to speak - that when people hear FISH and see the fish symbol, they know what it is.”
According to Savakis, in common public relations practices, such as writing a press release or news announcement, the author should identify what the acronym stands for upon first usage; then in subsequent references, the acronym is permitted.
“This works well especially when the acronym is used several times throughout the story and when the name of the organization, program or group is very long,” Savakis said. “Ultimately, I imagine the hope would be that the strength & credibility of the program speaks for itself, so the use of an acronym, will stick.”
Although acronyms may appear amusing or catchy, as Riggins and Savakis both indicated, the end goal is to get people to remember the name and purpose of an organization or event. If an acronym seems ambiguous, possibly misleading, or it simply gets lost among dozens of other acronyms, it does not achieve its goal, and should be reconsidered.