Heraldic Flags

Designed by Dr. Jerome B. Walker for President James H. Zumberge’s 1981 inauguration, heraldic flags for each academic degree-granting unit are displayed at commencements and other academic convocations. These flags, carried by students, precede the faculty in the procession.

By a long-standing tradition, most academic disciplines have used an identifying color, which is displayed on academic hoods in order to indicate the subject area in which the wearer obtained the degree. These identifying academic colors are used in the banners of the various schools and divisions of the university.

Found in the university seal, the torch of learning is a clear and honorable symbol, well suited to an institution of higher ­learning, and is one of the charges on the university’s shield of arms, which is carved on a number of the buildings on the campus. The university seal also contains a sun. Known as a “sun in its splendor,” the perimeter of the sun carries alternating straight and wavy rays. The straight rays represent the light and the wavy rays the warmth and affection that the university extends to its students and community.

Whenever possible, both the torch and the sun are used in flags to unite these disciplines under the flag of the University of Southern California. Occasionally the requirements of good banner design require the double use of one or the other of the two university symbols.

Although technically the design and description of banners is a part of heraldry, in recent years there has been some departure from the traditional rules of heraldic design as applied to banners. For example, a number of colors used successfully on banners do not fall within the rather narrow range of colors permitted by traditional heraldic rules. Thus, although the color brown is used frequently and with considerable effect in the design of banners, brown is not a heraldic color.

In describing banners in the most technical manner it would be customary to use the Old-French words for the colors or ­tinctures used, but it is deemed sensible, in describing modern banners using other than traditional colors, to use the simple English ­descriptions for colors. For those who are interested in traditional heraldic descriptions, the following substitutions may be made: for red write gules; for crimson write murrey; for blue write azure; for green write vert; for purple write purpure; for orange write tenny; for black write sable.

The colors yellow and white are known in heraldic language as metals; they represent, respectively, gold and silver and they are technically described as or and argent.

College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Academic colors, white for letters and yellow for sciences. The wide-ranging fields over which this college functions are symbolized by the intimate intertwining of letters, arts and sciences in the heraldic pattern known as “gyronny.” The torch of learning serves as a reminder that the work of this college is focused on scholarship.

The Graduate School

Academic color, royal blue for the doctorate. The saltire (a corner-to-corner cross) symbolizes the very wide range of disciplines over which this school presides and which the saltire unites in one unit.




Academic color, blue-violet. The Doric portico is used here as a symbol of beauty and proportions inspired by the early Greek architects, who continue to inspire the architect today. The blue background, representing the sky, suggests the almost limitless scope of architecture.

Art and Design

Academic color, brown. Here the symbols reflect two important branches of the creative arts, painting (and drawing) and sculpture.




Academic color, taupe. The rectangular figures that are symmetrically arranged on this flag are designed to symbolize the organizational characteristic of business at all levels of complexity.


Cinematic ArtsCinematic Arts

Academic colors, brown for the arts, white for letters. The eight triangles represent the strength of the individual disciplines, such as camera, editing, sound, graphics, writing, history, criticism and aesthetics, that form the larger discipline of cinematic arts. When combined, they form an iris, and in the center is the human eye, which represents the human mediation essential to the discipline.

Communication and JournalismCommunication and Journalism

Academic colors, crimson for communication, white for journalism. The three roundels, interconnected by arrows pointing in both directions, are here used to symbolize the fact that all communication has a threefold aspect — communicator, audience and medium — all of which are involved in the interplay and sharing of a message.


Academic color, amethyst. The two figures represent creativity and innovation, and they capture the artistry of bodies in motion. Dance is one of the oldest and most central expressions of humanity. The “sun in its splendor” represents the courage and power incumbent in authentic artistic creation, and white is the traditional heraldic color representing the arts and humanities.


Academic color, lilac. Dentistry, like the other scholarly areas associated with healthcare, uses the traditional Aesculapian staff and serpent, enclosed, in the case of dentistry, in a capital Greek letter, delta.


Dramatic Arts

Academic colors, brown for the arts, white for letters. The masks of comedy and tragedy, arranged to face each other, provide in the space between them a chalice, recalling the Chalice of Dionysus and the ancient tradition that actors were referred to as the “craftsmen of Dionysus.”


Academic color, light blue. The book, illuminated by the lamp of learning, is a very widely used, traditional symbol for education, and occurs in many shields of arms.



Academic color, orange. The inter-linked rings in this flag symbolize the way in which the profession of engineering interacts with and brings science and applied science to deal with problems in the world in which we live.



Academic color, gold. The very characteristic architecture of this school is incorporated in the flag, along with the oak tree, symbolizing sturdy and long-lasting life, with acorns representing the constant renewal of life.



Academic color, purple. The gavel, repeated four times in this flag, symbolizes the many aspects in which the legal profession provides a bulwark and framework of society at many levels: federal, state, county, and local.



Academic color, green. The staff of Aesculapius, the Roman god of medicine, around which is entwined the harmless snake beloved of Aesculapius, has been the symbol of medicine for many centuries.



Academic color, pink. The treble and bass clefs symbolize music expressed in all its forms and styles, vocal or instrumental. Music is a universal means of communication between human beings, linking the past, present and future.



Academic color, olive. Pharmacy is symbolized by the bowl of Hygeia, the goddess of health, coupled with the Aesculapian serpent, showing the close relationship between pharmacy and medicine.


Public Policy

Academic colors, crimson and peacock blue. The school’s work is represented in triads, which intersect three sectors; three levels of government; at three locations; and three levels of degree programs. The three roundels evoke those triads. The symbol of the honeycomb reflects one of nature’s most beautifully planned community structures. The hexagon links the six fields of the school.

Social WorkSocial Work

Academic color, citron. As symbolized by the individual reaching out to the globe with outstretched arms, social work by its very nature is about embracing our connections as human beings and inspiring the spirit of compassion and mutual respect that assists individuals and communities in reaching their full potential.