Special Issue on Leadership, Mentorship and DEI in the Post-Pandemic Public Relations Classroom
Note from the Guest Editor:
Juan Meng, Ph.D.
Head & Associate Professor
Department of Advertising and Public Relations
Grady College Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Georgia
Nilanjana Bardhan, Ph.D.
Communication Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
The world changed in 2020 in unprecedented ways. In the United States, the combined impact of COVID-19 and the racial unrest following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery left us reeling with regards to questions of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace and in our societal institutions, including higher education. Discourse on public relations education and DEI peaked. This watershed year witnessed numerous webinars, conversations and discussions sponsored by our profession’s organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America, the Institute for Public Relations, and the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, all of which queried with renewed vigor on how well we are preparing our students to be racial-justice-oriented and DEI-minded public relations professionals as they transition from college to the industry. This was the moment when we approached the Journal of Public Relations Education with the idea of this special issue.
Rationale for the Special Issue
As educators and scholars, we believe leadership and mentorship are especially important during times of upheaval, uncertainty and radical change. Educators and students are grappling with new pedagogical challenges, and we need scholarship that can aid in navigating these challenges and discovering opportunities (Bardhan & Gower, 2020). As editors of this special issue, we hope the research articles and teaching brief collected in this volume address the pressing need to make DEI an integral part of public relations education as emphasized by the Commission on Public Relations Education (Mundy et al., 2018). We also hope the broad range of perspectives and solutions offered in the articles collected in this special issue will aid in deepening our understanding of and the discussion on the intersections of leadership and mentorship in fostering DEI in public relations education.
It is hard to argue against the proposition that it is difficult for progress to occur in the domain of DEI without committed leadership and stellar mentorship. With regards to public relations education, this means that both students and educators need to understand this crucial relationship between DEI, leadership and mentorship in public relations pedagogy and learning environments. Meng (2013, 2015) has already emphasized that educators play a critical and instructive role in enhancing students’ competitive advantage by incorporating leadership content and training into undergraduate curriculum. In addition, Bardhan and Gower (2020) also addressed the need for public relations educators to lead efforts to advance DEI in education by diversifying curriculum, enhancing inclusive learning environments, and advocating for structural change for DEI-centered pedagogy. The events of 2020 compelled us to weave together both these emphases of DEI and leadership and add the layer of mentorship. We wove in these layers into our call, which encouraged submissions addressing both the challenges and the opportunities in the DEI-Leadership-Mentorship mix in the domain of public relations education. Some key questions were asked as we launched the special issue call:
- What are the current practice, challenges and opportunities associated with enhancing public relations education at the intersections of leadership, mentorship, and DEI?
- What kinds of pedagogical, theoretical and practical implications and recommendations can we offer educators in empowering them to foster DEI in public relations education by jointly engaging leadership and mentorship in teaching and training?
- What are the best practices and resources that aid in teaching public relations at the intersections of leadership, mentorship and DEI?
- What are some innovative approaches and strategies to connect educators, practitioners and students to enhance public relations pedagogy by integrating the critical thinking and discussion of leadership, mentorship and DEI?
Contribution of the Special Issue
This special issue, Leadership, Mentorship and DEI in the Post-Pandemic Public Relations Classroom, strives to address the above questions. We are pleased to offer our readers a collection of seven articles, which includes six original research articles and one teaching brief. This collection offers a variety of perspectives on exploring both the challenges and opportunities for public relations pedagogy focusing on leadership and mentorship and how the mix could foster a more diverse, equal and inclusive environment in the post-pandemic public relations classroom.
This issue is organized into three sections, which reflect the complexities of the intersections of leadership, mentorship and DEI in public relations education. The first section, Current Practices and Challenges of DEI in Public Relations Education and the Need for Self-Reflection and Mentorship, includes three articles addressing the broad landscape of public relations pedagogy at the intersections of leadership, mentorship and DEI.
The first article titled “Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion in the Public Relations Classroom: Current Practices of Public Relations Educators,” contributed by Shana Meganck and Yeonsoo Kim, provides an overview of the changing higher education landscape in addressing the DEI efforts from multiple perspectives (e.g., recruitment, admissions, climate, curriculum, research, strategic planning, administrative structures, etc.). The study focuses on investigating the pedagogical approaches adapted by public relations educators to integrate DEI practices in the public relations classroom through a self-administered online survey. To provide a snapshot of the current DEI practice in public relations education, the authors reviewed structural elements of courses in public relations curriculum such as value statements and policies in course materials, course objectives and learning outcomes, assignments and course evaluations and investigated how those pedagogical approaches are integrated into public relations education to support DEI in the classroom. The results of the survey indicate that educators are performing better when it comes to practicing DEI pedagogical approaches and that they need to work harder at including clearer DEI structural elements.
The second contribution, titled “Self-Reflection is the Engine that Drives, Grows and Sustains DE&I among Leaders, Mentors and Public Relations Educators and Professionals,” by Bruce K. Berger and Elina Erzikova, offers a critical perspective on examining the relationship between meaningful self-reflection and its underestimated function in navigating DEI challenges and unexpected situations. The authors designed and carried out a three-phase comprehensive research project in the past four years (i.e., self-reflection interviews with 30 PR leaders, a content analysis of educator blogs, articles, and websites addressing self-reflection skills, and surveys of PR educators and focus groups with PR students). Based on the results, the authors argue that educators and professionals in public relations must practice meaningful self-reflection to not only grow but also sustain DEI in public relations. More significantly, the authors provide a practical six-step strategic self-reflection process that can be taught and practiced in the classroom. From the perspective of leadership development, the authors argue that self-reflection is the foundation for continuous improvement in public relations leadership, mentorship, education, and practice.
In the third article in this section, titled “Cross the Stage: Underrepresented Students’ Challenges and Mentoring Needs in Strategic Communication Programs,” Jiun-Yi Tsai, Janice Sweeter, and Amy Hitt focus on investigating the challenges encountered by underrepresented students in public relations programs in college education. The authors conducted 14 semi-structured interviews with students who self-identify as first generation, Hispanic/Latinx, or Black/African American college students majoring in strategic communication. Their research offers insights on the importance of mentorship support from faculty to help underrepresented students build resilience. The research results also mention that identity-based clubs and classroom peer relationships could foster relational connections that support underrepresented students.
The second section of this special issue, Curriculum Innovation and Accreditation Standards in Public Relations DEI Pedagogy, features two contributions addressing innovative pedagogical approaches in public relations curriculum. The first article contributed by Lee Bush and Vanessa Bravo, titled “Systematically Applying DEI Accreditation Standards to a Strategic Communication Curriculum,” shares the authors’ experience in leading a new initiative to research, develop, and test modules to achieve DEI learning outcomes in their strategic communication courses as an effort to meet the new guidelines for diversity and inclusion approved by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC). The reflective results showed that it is important to integrate DEI into curriculum in a more systematic way. The assessment results of what worked and what did not provide important pedagogical suggestions to public relations educators for developing a DEI-focused curriculum.
Leadership, mentorship and DEI can intersect in extracurricular spaces and learning environments inhabited by public relations students, and this is demonstrated in practical detail in the second article in this section, titled “Student-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Education in Public Relations: PRSSA as a Space for Teaching and Learning.” Authors Arshia Anwer and Timmy Kwong describe how the student leadership of a Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter at a private liberal arts college in the United States took the initiative to enhance its DEI vision, action and pedagogy during the watershed events of 2020. By inviting multiple DEI focused guest speakers, conducting a survey that gauged chapter members’ interest in DEI issues, recruiting diverse students to the chapter from across campus, and nominating its VP for DEI for a PR News Social Impact Award, this chapter sets an example for other PRSSA chapters to emulate.
The third section of this special issue, Teaching Cases for Exploring DEI Complexities in Public Relations Education, is composed of two contributions that center on incorporating inclusivity and cultural sensitivity into public relations campaigns courses. In the article, titled “Shaping Tomorrow’s Industry Leaders by Incorporating Inclusivity into Campaign Planning Curriculum: Student Reactions to the SMART+IE Mindset in Strategic Communication Efforts,” Richard D. Waters and Tricia M. Farwell present an innovative teaching activity that demonstrates how students can be pedagogically engaged to discuss the nuances of DEI in campaign planning and strategic communication. By incorporating hypothetical case studies that include DEI complexities and teaching students how to lead in DEI communication, this pedagogical innovation emphasizes the importance of inclusive communication. The authors share not just the case study and its DEI pedagogy value, but also describe how students who worked on this case in classes responded to it and what they learned from it about themselves and about the role of DEI in strategic communication. Additionally, the authors reflect on their own experience, as educators, of including this DEI case study in their classes.
The last contribution in this edited issue is a teaching brief, titled “Eco-Tourism Campaigns as a Framework for Global PR Course.” The authors, Nandini Bhalla and Arien Rozelle, address diversity education at the international level and argue for the importance of helping students build cultural sensitivity and equality in the public relations classroom. Their teaching brief provides scenarios for public relations educators to consider and adopt when helping students understand cultural and structural differences in an international context.
Overall, the research articles and teaching brief collected in this special issue present a wide range of perspectives on understanding the intersections of leadership, mentorship and DEI in public relations education. We could not locate any research that addressed the intersections of DEI, leadership and mentorship in public relations education when we sent out the call for this special issue. Now we are pleased to state that this is no longer the case. The intersectionality nature of the topics present the complexity at multiple dimensions such as the practical, the pedagogical and the theoretical levels. It is our sincere hope that the articles in this special issue will serve as a springboard for further scholarship on this critical intersection in public relations pedagogy.
It has truly been an honor to have had the opportunity to work on this issue and we would like to thank all those who supported it by sending in submissions. We would especially like to thank our team of reviewers with expertise on this topic. We could not have published this issue without their valuable insights, constructive feedback, comments and suggestions, and overall solid reviews to help the authors revise and improve their research and writings. Finally and most importantly, our heartfelt thanks go to Dr. Pamela Bourland-Davis, Editor of the Journal of Public Relations Education and her editorial team for offering the opportunity to edit this special issue. It would have been impossible to produce this special issue without their encouragement and guidance throughout the process.
Bardhan, N., & Gower, K. (2020). Student and faculty/educator views on diversity and inclusion in public relations: The role of leaders in bringing about change. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 102-141. Available at https://aejmc.us/jpre/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2020/08/PDF-of-Bardhan-and-Gower-2020-from-JPRE-6.2-1.pdf
Meng, J. (2013). Learning by leading: Integrating leadership in public relations education for an enhanced value. Public Relations Review, 39(5), 609-611. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2013.09.005
Meng, J. (2015). Integrating leadership in public relations education to develop future leaders. Journal of Public Relations Education, 1(1), 31-37. Available at https://aejmc.us/jpre/2015/08/04/integrating-leadership-in-public-relations-education-to-develop-future-leaders/
Mundy, D., Lewton, K., Hicks, A., & Neptune, T. (2018). Diversity: An imperative commitment for educators and practitioners. In Fast Forward: The 2017 Report on undergraduate public relations education (pp. 139-148). Commission on Public Relations Education. Available at: http://www.commissionpred.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/report6-full.pdf
Table of Contents
Section I: Current Practices and Challenges of DEI in Public Relations Education and the Need for Self-Reflection and Mentorship
Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion in the Public Relations Classroom: Current Practices of Public Relations Educators
Shana Meganck and Yeonsoo Kim
Cross the Stage: Underrepresented Students’ Challenges and Mentoring Needs in Strategic Communication Programs
Jiun-Yi Tsai, Janice Sweeter, and Amy Hitt
Section II: Curriculum Innovation and Accreditation Standards in Public Relations DEI Pedagogy
Systematically Applying DEI Accreditation Standards to a Strategic Communication Curriculum
Lee Bush and Vanessa Bravo
Section III: Teaching Cases for Exploring DEI Complexities in Public Relations Education
Shaping Tomorrow’s Industry Leaders by Incorporating Inclusivity into Campaign Planning Curriculum: Student Reactions to the SMART+IE Mindset in Strategic Communication Efforts
Richard D. Waters and Tricia M. Farwell
Eco-Tourism Campaigns as a Framework for Global PR Course
Nandini Bhalla and Arien Rozelle
Read the full issue here:
Publication of the Public Relations Division of AEJMC
© 2023 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).