Journal of Public Relations Education, Vol. 8, Issue 2

Note from the Special Issue Editors:

Stephanie Madden, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor 
Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications
Penn State
Senior Research Fellow, Arthur W. Page Center

Stephanie Mahin, Ph.D.
Clinical Assistant Professor
Management & Corporate Communication
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

In 2020, the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the weeks of protest for racial justice that surrounded each event, led a group of public relations scholars and educators in activist public relations to meet on Zoom to discuss how to integrate topics about activism into our classrooms. Many of us felt a deep divide between our activist research interests, our personal commitment to activist causes, and the types of skills-based, corporate-centric content we teach in our public relations courses. While the body of academic literature on the topic of activist public relations grows, we noticed a lack of tangible resources and pedagogical research on how to incorporate activism into public relations education. As our grassroots group compiled resources, we came up with the idea for this special issue of the Journal of Public Relations Education to help bridge the gap, and help other scholars and educators feel less fragmented between their research and teaching interests. We hope you find the articles in this issue useful as a way to incorporate activist topics into core public relations courses such as research, writing, and campaigns, or maybe you will be inspired to create a special topics course.

The issue opens with an article “Centering Activism and Social Justice in Public Relations Education: Critical Communication Pedagogy as an Entryway” by Aghazadeh and Ashby-King that presents critical communication pedagogy (CCP) as a framework to meaningfully include activism in PR curricula and the very dynamics of classroom instruction. In addition to their compelling argument for the importance of integrating social justice and activism into the PR classroom, they offer three concrete strategies on how to do this rooted in CCP’s guiding concepts of identity, power, and social (re)production. These include considering the influence of positionality on communication, student and educator power dynamics, and critiquing discourses and challenging social (re)production.

While the revolution may not be televised, the article, “Called, Committed and Inspiring Activism: How Black PR Guest Speakers Experienced the PR classroom during the COVID-19 and Racial Reckoning Academic Year of 2020/2021” by Del Rosso and Brown suggests a revolution in the classroom. One way to do this is by embracing activist pedagogy, which is about transforming the classroom into a space that decenters privilege and decolonizes curriculum. The authors interviewed Black public relations professionals about their experiences as invited guests and what professors can do to improve them. Four fascinating themes emerged that speak directly to why Black PR experts go into the classroom. The authors provide a useful guide with actionable suggestions for professors to help prepare guest speakers for the classroom experience.

Teaching activism does not have to be emotionally draining or focused only on confrontational tactics. Hou and Wang’s article, “Creativity is the Key: Incorporating Creative Activism to Public Relations Classrooms through Using Creative Pedagogy,” offers creativity as an entry point for the content, design, and delivery of activist public relations education. Seeing the potential for activism as both joyful and fun, rather than only discouraging and negative, may encourage more students to consider how their public relations skills can be used as part of social change movements. For instructors, creative pedagogy also offers ways to revitalize traditional teaching of activist public relations through playfulness, hope, and possibilities. Hou and Wang offer a variety of case studies and participatory activities for integrating creative activism into PR classes.

The fourth article, “Public Interest Communications in the Classroom: Bringing Activism to Public Relations Education” by Chernin and Brunner introduces readers to a newer area of study, Public Interest Communication or PIC. The authors challenge public relations educators to use the PIC framework to disrupt the ways in which communication is taught by moving beyond teaching corporate-focused skills to a curriculum that uses skill-based approaches to mold future activists. For example, the PIC framework offers six tactics that, when used as part of strategic communication, can help drive social change. Additionally, Chernin and Brunner offer specific and timely suggestions for how to incorporate PIC into existing public relations programs.

The two teaching briefs in this issue offer activism-focused assignments that can be easily adopted into the public relations classroom. In her article “Vaccinate Against Hate: Using Activism to Teach Applied PR Research and Theory,” Rozelle provides an in-class activity where students are tasked to develop a recruitment campaign and educational and awareness campaign for the fictional organization Vaccinate Against Hate. Because this activity can be integrated into an introductory public relations course, it offers an easy entry point for students to begin considering the role of public relations in activist causes.

More than ever corporations are expected to take a public stance on social and political issues. Remaining silent can be a sign of indifference. For example, after the murder of George Floyd, corporations offered statements in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement and/or a call to address structural racism. A major criticism of these statements was a lack of action and follow through. In “Beyond Slacktivism: Lessons for Authentic Activist Messages through Public Relations,” Janoske Mclean and Marks Malone offer timely and practical lessons to teach students how to write effective activist statements. Through these lessons, students are encouraged to find the organization’s authentic voice as they identify and practice writing activist statements. Further, this brief offers a lesson on how to respond to positive and negative reactions to corporate activist statements from the public. From navigating through a global pandemic, to parenting a toddler, and having a difficult pregnancy and unexpected early childbirth, our first time editing a journal had its fair share of challenges. A huge thank you to editor Pamela Bourland-Davis (and her editorial team) who worked patiently with us from idea conception to final production of this issue. We are immensely grateful for her kindness and understanding throughout the process. We would also like to thank the reviewers who quickly accepted invitations to review and offered valuable feedback for authors. Through both personal and global challenges, we are extraordinarily proud of this JPRE special issue and hope it jumpstarts conversations about how public relations can and should play a transformative role in society and our role as educators in the process.

Table of Contents

Research Papers

Centering Activism and Social Justice in Public Relations Education: Critical Communication Pedagogy as an Entryway
Sarah A. Aghazadeh and Drew T. Ashby-King

Called, Committed and Inspiring Activism: How Black PR guest speakers experienced the PR classroom during the COVID-19 and Racial Reckoning academic year of 2020/2021
David Brown and Teri Del Rosso

Creativity is key: Using creative pedagogy to incorporate activism in the public relations classroom
Jenny Zhengye Hou and Yi Wang

Public Interest Communications in the Classroom: Bringing Activism to Public Relations Education
Kelly Chernin and Brigitta Brunner

Teaching Briefs

Vaccinate Against Hate: Using Activism to Teach Applied PR Research and Theory
Arien Rozelle

Beyond Slacktivism: Lessons for Authentic Activist Messages through Public Relations
Melissa Janoske McLean and Kim Marks Malone

Book Review

What Does Injustice Have to Do with Me? Engaging Privileged White Students with Social Justice
Reviewed by Karen Lindsey

Read the full issue here:

A publication of the Public Relations Division of AEJMC
© 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

The Journal of Public Relations Education (JPRE) is devoted to the presentation of research and commentary that advance the field of public relations education. JPRE invites submissions in the following three categories:

  • Research Articles
  • Teaching Briefs
  • Book/Software Reviews

Learn more by visiting the About JPRE page and the Authors/Contributors page for submission guidelines. All submissions should follow the guidelines of the most recent edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Questions? Contact the Editorial Staff.

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