Editorial Record: Submitted May 30, 2022. Revised August 29, 2022. Accepted October 28, 2022.
Elon, North Carolina
Vanessa Bravo, Ph.D.
Elon, North Carolina
In November of 2020, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications revised its accreditation standards and included new guidelines for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). To meet the new DEI guidelines in a systematic way, the authors led an initiative to research, develop, and test modules to achieve DEI learning outcomes in four core Strategic Communications courses at Elon University. The authors then shared the modules and assessment with Strategic Communications faculty and discussed how they could be applied in each of the core courses. This initiative created shared language and norms for faculty teaching DEI across the curriculum, provided tested content that resonated with students, and supplied faculty with needed resources and applications they could then customize to fit their own class projects and teaching styles. This pilot study outlines the approach taken and results of the assessment and faculty feedback.
Keywords: accreditation, DEI, ACEJMC, diversity, strategic communication
In November of 2020, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) approved revised standards for its accredited and accreditation-seeking universities. Part of these revised standards included new guidelines for diversity and inclusion. In the area of curriculum, the standards read:
The unit’s curriculum creates culturally proficient communicators capable of learning with, working on and advancing the value of diverse teams. The unit’s curriculum includes instruction on issues and perspectives relating to mass communications across diverse cultures in a global society. (ACEJMC, 2021, p. 50)
In addition, the standards require units to demonstrate “effective efforts to enhance all faculty members’ understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion and ability to develop culturally proficient communicators” (ACEJMC, 2021, p. 50). To meet these standards in the Strategic Communications department at our university (Elon University, North Carolina, USA), the department chair spearheaded an initiative to update student learning outcomes in all our required courses. The newly created diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) learning objectives were specific to each required course and were incorporated into syllabi beginning in the fall of 2021. It was then up to each faculty member to meet these learning objectives in their courses in their own ways.
As Waymer and Dyson pointed out in 2011, while diversity is emphasized in accreditation standards, these issues do not always trickle down to the PR classroom “in systematic ways” (p. 462). Similarly, while the recent report from the Commission on Public Relations Education (2018) charged educators with taking a leadership role in addressing critical DEI areas, particularly regarding the centrality of DEI in accreditation standards, it also acknowledged the difficulty in conveying “how D&I-focused content is reflected in curriculum” and called on public relations programs to “proactively address and plan for diversity related content” (Mundy et al., 2018, p. 141). Likewise, in their study of student and faculty leaders in DEI, Bardhan and Gower (2020) proposed that faculty thought leaders “need to work collectively with peers and accreditation bodies to enhance curriculum for D&I and develop needed courses and content” (p. 136).
While revising our course learning objectives was a good start, we began to think about how we could infuse DEI content more systematically into our courses, while also scaffolding the content so that upper-level courses were building on what was learned in lower-level courses. In addition, we acknowledged that faculty were at different levels in their understanding and ability to teach DEI. While many faculty are already infusing DEI into their courses, it would take time and research to meet the new learning objectives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, time is something faculty members do not have. How could we make it easier for faculty to create content that is meaningful and effective in meeting the new learning objectives?
To accomplish this task, the authors took a leadership role in creating, testing, and sharing content with faculty to help them navigate the challenge of meeting our DEI learning objectives. Through a Diversity and Inclusion Grant from our university’s Center for Teaching and Learning, we spent the summer of 2021 researching and developing teaching modules for each of our core Strategic Communications courses. We tested and assessed the modules in courses during the 2021-22 academic year, and then shared the modules and our assessment with faculty at an information session in the spring of 2022. The result was that we created shared language and norms for faculty teaching DEI across our curriculum, provided tested content that resonated with students, and supplied faculty with needed resources and applications they could then customize to fit their own class projects and teaching styles. This study will outline the approach we took and the results of student assessment and faculty feedback, addressing the focus area of “Faculty preparation/training and peer mentoring for teaching PR to advance DE&I in this time of great uncertainty” outlined by the editors of this special issue.
Literature Review and Modules Focus
For decades, the communication industry has bemoaned its “diversity problem,” and though the industry has made some strides, it still has a long way to go (Dunleavy, 2022; Marszalek, 2021; Moore, 2022). In the results of a 2016 omnibus survey reported by the Commission on Public Relations Education (Mundy et al., 2018), practitioners said they value candidates with a multicultural professional lens, but that this perspective is often lacking in entry-level candidates (p. 139). Acknowledging the link between industry and education, the report states, “In order to see D&I within the public relations industry flourish, change must begin at the academic level,” partly through how DEI is taught in public relations programs (p. 139).
While industry leaders and educators agree that DEI is critical to a public relations education, the content for making this a reality is often lacking. For example, in interviews with faculty, Waymer and Dyson (2011) found that race is often non-existent in PR classes and “few textbooks deal with the subject matter in any real depth” (p. 473). In their paper on the role of industry and education leaders bringing about needed change, Bardhan and Gower (2020) found that the PR curriculum “is still not adequately incorporating diverse course content despite ongoing calls from accreditation bodies and professional associations” (p. 110). In their interviews, students and educators shared that it is often only faculty with marginalized identities who engage DEI in the classroom, that DEI needs to be incorporated throughout the curriculum and not just as one class, the importance of including diverse authors and speakers in PR classes, and the need to challenge students to think in new ways in an industry that lacks diversity.
While several departments within our university provide faculty training in intercultural competence and DEI teaching and learning skills, the focus of our project was on developing and testing the course content needed to meet our DEI learning objectives and create culturally proficient communicators, as required by ACEJMC. The Goodman model for “Cultural Competence for Equity and Inclusion” requires developing in students “a range of awareness, knowledge, and skills,” including “self-awareness,” “valuing others,” “knowledge of social inequities,” and “skills to interact effectively with a diversity of people” and “foster transformation towards equity and inclusion” (Goodman, 2020, pp. 7-10).
To help students achieve cultural competence, Georgetown University provides a toolkit for faculty to design “inclusive, antiracist learning environments” (Georgetown, n.d.a.). The toolkit includes five interconnected aspects of teaching and learning, beginning with content and pedagogy. In the area of content, the toolkit encourages faculty to intentionally bring “a range of activities, materials, perspectives, and identities into the learning space” and to “name and discuss the agenda(s) and historical biases of your field” (Georgetown, n.d.b.). In the area of pedagogy, the guide suggests that course design should “encompass explicit learning goals, transparent assignments and criteria, and engaging active learning activities that stimulate and challenge students” (Georgetown, n.d.c.). Further, in the Wheaton College guide for “Becoming an Anti-Racist Educator,” the resource offers guidance for assessing course content and employing evidence-based anti-racist pedagogy (Torres, n.d.).
To fill the DEI content gap in our program, we developed teaching modules for each of our core Strategic Communications courses: Public Relations & Civic Responsibility, Strategic Writing, Strategic Research Methods, and Strategic Campaigns. Since our newly revised DEI learning objectives were specific to each course, it was important to review literature that addressed these specifics. We developed an annotated bibliography to help us create the content, lessons, materials, and class activities (described later in this paper) for each course. It was sometimes difficult to find educational-related DEI research to apply to each objective and thus it was often necessary to go outside the communications field for resources. Below is a sample of this research and how we used it in each of the teaching modules.
Public Relations & Civic Responsibility
Because Public Relations & Civic Responsibility is our introductory course in the major, it was necessary to share and explain to students certain basic DEI concepts they might not be familiar with (what is diversity, what is equity, what is inclusion) and the state of DEI in the field of strategic communications. Different recent studies have indicated that our industry, in general, and our field within the federal government, in particular, is about 81% to 88% White, respectively. In contrast, the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2019), is only about 60% White. This data clearly indicates that our profession is not reflecting the diversity of the society in which it operates (Chitkara, 2018; Diversity Action Alliance, 2021; U.S. Census Bureau, 2019). In fact, the DAA’s report (2021) surveyed more than 100 U.S.-based public relations and communications organizations and found that just 21% (about one-fifth) of employees are racially/ethnically diverse, and, in 2019, they were promoted at a lower rate than their White counterparts.
To meet our course learning objectives, it was also important for students to understand why our field is so White (Diversity Action Alliance, 2021; Landis, 2019) and why the United States has marginalized and/or failed to fully include some identity communities for so long (Coates, 2014; DiAngelo, 2019; Hannah-Jones, 2019; 2021), although this second goal would require a full separate course (or several) to do it justice. We included, in our annotated bibliography, some foundational readings for our students to at least start understanding the historical processes that explain why racial and ethnic inequities still exist in the United States (Capps, 2015; Collins, 2018; Curtis, 2015; Elliott & Hughes, 2019; Guilford, 2018; Mulholland, 2019; PBS, 2003). We also added recommendations from the literature on how to make our field of strategic communication more inclusive (Chitkara, 2018; Diversity Action Alliance, 2021; Landis, 2019, PRSA, 2022).
Additionally, we incorporated a case study about the Latinx community, the second-largest community in the United States, to dispel myths and better understand facts (Noe-Bustamante & Flores, 2019). Other PR professors could use this case study or choose to focus on other marginalized communities (i.e., the Black community, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities).
For the Strategic Writing course, which is the second required course in the major, it was important to refresh some statistics about the racial and ethnic demographics of the United States, adding information as well about gender and gender expression, sexual orientation, levels of ability or disability, religious affiliations or lack thereof, and socioeconomic status. Excellent resources about U.S. demographics regarding race and ethnicity, immigration, religion, generations and age, gender and LGBTQ populations can be found at the Pew Research Center’s website under the heading “Research Topics” (Pew Research Center, 2022).
The overarching purpose for the Strategic Writing DEI learning objectives is to teach students that we write for very diverse audiences. Diversity, equity, and inclusion all need to be reflected in the topics we write about, the angles we use for those topics, the sources of information we use for those materials (both regarding expert sources and “regular people”), the visuals that accompany our storytelling, and the media through which we disseminate our messages. In summary, we wanted students to understand that diversity is about all of us in society, not about “the Other.”
We also added information about the importance of consulting expert groups when we create content for internal and external campaigns in our organizations or communication agencies, which we can find through general web searches and by focusing on certain platforms such as LinkedIn. We mention organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of Retired People, The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Institute, UnitedWeDream, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and Voto Latino. Furthermore, we review the guidelines that the Associated Press Stylebook offers related to DEI aspects (AP, 2022).
Strategic Research Methods
Content for Strategic Research Methods, the third required course in the major, focused on teaching students how to develop culturally-sensitive research projects – from design and implementation to analysis and final report writing. This also included discussing DEI in research ethics.
For research ethics, we were cognizant that many communication research textbooks cover only Western and male-centered ethics theories, such as deontological, teleological, and relativism. We discussed how Western ethics theories focus more on the individual, while Eastern and other non-Western theories focus more on the community or group, and why it is important to consider both in an increasingly global world (Hongladarom, 2019).
In covering how to design culturally sensitive research, we began by discussing why it is important to take a “DEI-first” approach when developing a research project rather than making it an afterthought. Baugh and Guion (2006), for example, assert that research should place culture and its impact on human behavior at the forefront of the research process, viewing culture as an explanatory rather than tertiary variable examined in relation to other variables. A resource that was particularly helpful for outlining the components of a culturally sensitive research project was an article in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (Burlew et al., 2019). Although not specific to communications, the article goes through each stage of the scientific research process and identifies the most appropriate strategies for researching marginalized identity groups. In addition, we included more practical guidance, like how to ask questions about race/ethnicity (Burlew et al., 2019; Office of Regulatory Affairs and Research Compliance, 2020), and sexuality/gender (Vanderbilt University, n.d.) in a survey.
We also provided examples of qualitative research methods that challenge the traditional positivist approach. These included examples of “decolonizing” research methods such as participatory action research (Zavala, 2013), and communicative methodologies (Gomez et al., 2019). The purpose of these examples was to show that research should be done “with” rather than “on” marginalized communities. Another example provided was a “research manifesto” created collaboratively by community members in the Downtown Eastside area of Vancouver, Canada (Neufeld et al., 2019). The manifesto was created to eliminate research practices that cause harm to community members and provide guidelines for researchers to engage in practices that are respectful, useful, and ethical.
For the Strategic Campaigns course, the culminating senior-level course in the major, our focus was on teaching students to be proficient in incorporating DEI into their campaigns and understanding the business case for doing so. Since our major includes students who are interested in both advertising and public relations, we reviewed materials that covered both disciplines. In this module, we provided a video of interviews with industry professionals at Cannes Lions (CNBC International TV, 2018) on how far the industry has come on DEI (not far) and how far it had to go. We provided statistics that emphasized the lack of diversity in the industry, including in graphic design (Brewer, 2019; Statista, 2021). We further discussed the impact this lack of diversity has on consumer perceptions, purchasing habits, and missed market opportunities (Brown, 2019; Walker, 2020).
To help students better understand communication professionals’ ethical and moral responsibilities to DEI, we discussed how corporate history is tied to oppression (Coates, 2014; Jan et al., 2020; Lockhart, 2019; Lowell, 2020; Modern Marketing Partners, 2017) and the responsibility of corporations to right this wrong. For example, in her “Theory of Corporate Responsibility to Race,” Nneka Logan (2021) posits that, because corporations have profited from racial oppression, they have a responsibility to “communicate in ways that advocate for racial justice; attempt to improve race relations; and support achieving a more equitable and harmonious society” (p. 1).
Walking through each stage of the campaign planning process, we discussed ways to incorporate DEI throughout. For example, we included resources on brainstorming with cross-cultural teams, outlining how different cultures prefer different styles of participation (Livermore, 2016); making sure your creative concepts and tactics accurately reflect the diverse cultures of your audiences (Dallis, 2020); and approaching social media from a DEI perspective, including diversifying your own social feed and working with a diverse group of influencers (McFarlane, 2016).
After the first round of assessments, revisions to the module included two other resources: materials from the UN Women’s Unstereotype Alliance, and a diversity and representation guide from the World Federation of Advertisers. While these materials focus on the advertising industry, they are applicable to all communicators in strategic communication.
The Unstereotype Alliance is an industry-led initiative convened by UN Women to end harmful stereotypes and affect positive culture change (Unstereotype Alliance, n.d.). In May of 2021, the Alliance created a “State of the Industry” report outlining gaps and opportunities in fostering workplace equality, achieving unstereotyped advertising, and empowering public action (Unstereotype Alliance, 2021a.). In addition, the Unstereotype Alliance has created the “3 Ps” framework for representing diverse people in marketing communications materials. These include Presence (representation that goes beyond simply being a “mannequin for the product”), Perspective (who is framing the story) and Personality (depth of the character) (Unstereotype Alliance, 2021b.). This framework is helpful as students are thinking about their target audiences and how to accurately portray the characters used in their campaigns.
The guide from the World Federation of Advertisers (Daykin & Smith, n.d.) goes through every step of the creative process, from identifying the business challenge, to strategic insight and data, to creative development, media activation, and evaluation and measurement. Under each stage, the guide poses a set of questions for communicators to ask themselves, such as “How are you ensuring your strategy is grounded in diverse consumer insight?” (p. 5) and “What steps are you taking with suppliers to bring in more diverse talent?” (p. 7). The guide includes multiple additional resources to tap under each stage. This guide is helpful for students to refer to as they go through the planning process.
Methodology: Module Approach and Assessment Outline
The pilot test of our DEI curriculum included four components: developing teaching/learning modules specific to the DEI learning objectives for each of our core Strategic Communications courses, including activities for students to apply the concepts; delivering the modules and activities in Strategic Communications classes; assessing the modules from the perspective of both students and faculty presenters; and sharing and getting feedback on the modules from faculty colleagues. Curriculum testing following the above develop/deliver/assess model has been used prominently in education — from K-12 to college and professional training — to test new curriculum content and pedagogy against learning objectives before going to scale (see, for example, Briliyanti et al., 2020; Cannon et al., 2020; Swart et al., 2020).
In its “Toolbox for Curriculum Documentation and Testing,” the Northwest Center for Sustainable Resources (NCSR), funded by the National Science Foundation, states, “Pilot testing is the process of evaluating the efficacy of the course or stand-alone modules in attaining the intended student outcomes,” and it “involves the implementing, evaluating, and revising of each discrete part of the new or revised course or module” (NCSR, n.d.). In pilot testing its Shared Discovery Curriculum, Michigan State University states that, in addition to learning how to best meet learning objectives, pilot testing also provides “time to reflect on required faculty prep time; resources required for faculty preparation; and the group process skills needed by faculty to achieve the learning goals” (Michigan State University, n.d.).
Below we outline each phase of our pilot test.
Module and Class Activities Development
As mentioned above, the teaching modules we developed covered DEI learning objectives for each of our core Strategic Communications courses. Each module included the following:
- One foundational reading and one video to introduce the topic to students in the course
- A PowerPoint presentation to be delivered by instructors with an initial student lesson about the topic at hand
- A hands-on/application activity where students apply the concepts to a real-world situation in the strategic communication industry
- A short lesson plan for instructors to execute the activity in class
- A list of references that professors could use a) to assign readings to students during the semester, b) to learn more about these topics themselves as teachers, and c) to incorporate this knowledge in their lectures during the semester
It is important to note that, while the teaching modules were designed to be covered in one to three class periods, the aim of the content was to get students thinking about DEI throughout the course. Faculty members could then supplement other materials to reinforce the concepts throughout the semester.
The class activities included in each module varied depending on the course. For our Public Relations & Civic Responsibility course, we included an activity where students worked in groups of three people and compared the DEI statements posted on different corporations’ and communication agencies’ websites with the composition of their C-Suites. Students then arrived at their own conclusions on whether diversity statements got reflected appropriately or not in who has real decision-making power within these organizations.
For Strategic Writing, our hands-on activity includes a “topic-mapping” exercise where we explore the case of a local organization (such as a local hospital or university) in relation to COVID-19. We examine the different topics that we could be writing about for our stakeholders, depending on our publics’ racial and ethnic identities, age brackets, sexual orientation, presence or absence of physical and learning disabilities, urban or rural locations, socioeconomic status, and, in particular, the context of the county where we are located in North Carolina.
Once we map out these possible topics with the students, we ask students to consider those topics as initial input to pitch three different story ideas about the impact of COVID-19, depending on the diversity of audiences discussed. On a separate class day, we review two strategic communication pieces (we selected two print ads by major brands, but this can also be done with TV commercials) – one where a particular community is portrayed with nuance and respect, and one where a particular community is portrayed in stereotypical, insensitive ways – to discuss what probably went right and what probably went wrong in each case.
For the Strategic Research Methods course, we ask students to pretend they have been hired by the Centers for Disease Control to increase COVID-19 vaccinations among unvaccinated populations. Students were asked to think through the preliminary research they would do, the cultural contexts they would need to explore, the language/terms they would need to consider in developing primary research plans and materials, the methodologies they would use, how they could make the project more participatory and communicative, and which community experts or influencers they would engage.
For the Campaigns course, we used the Diversity & Inclusion Wheel for PR Practitioners (Luttrell and Wallace, 2021). The wheel includes six inner spokes of diversity (e.g., race/ethnicity, national origin, age) and 17 outer spokes (e.g., language, education, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, etc.). The authors provide instructions for reviewing a public relations case study and connecting elements of the case study to spokes in the wheel.
Module Delivery and Assessment
We tested the content of three modules in one PR & Civic Responsibility class, two Strategic Research Methods classes, and one Strategic Campaigns class during the fall of 2021 (the fourth module for Strategic Writing was tested in the fall of 2022). After the initial assessment, we revised the teaching modules based on the input we collected from both students and presenters, and the modules were presented again in the spring of 2022. Revisions included updating some content, slightly modifying some of the in-class activities, and incorporating more discussion questions throughout each module. Our assessment plan included four elements: A qualitative Qualtrics survey given to students after they had read the materials and seen the presentations; results of quiz questions on the material in two courses; instructor reflections on what worked well and what didn’t in each class; and a review of reading reflections submitted by students.
A total of 120 students participated in the pilot, from sophomores to seniors, with 58 students voluntarily responding to the Qualtrics survey. Survey data was analyzed using thematic analysis to identify common themes overall, and themes specific to each course. In addition, after the modules were tested, we held a session with faculty colleagues in May of 2022 where we shared the revised modules and assessment results, gathered feedback on the usefulness of the modules in meeting our new DEI learning objectives, and determined what other resources or training might be needed.
As stated previously, modules were tested and assessed in the fall of 2021, revisions were made, and several of the modules were presented again in the spring of 2022. Below are highlights of student and instructor assessment.
One to two weeks after modules were presented in the fall, students were asked to take a qualitative Qualtrics survey to answer four questions: 1) What did you like/appreciate about the class session on DEI?; 2) What would you say are the two most important things you learned?; 3) Was there anything missing from the session that you think is important to add or include?; and, 4) In what ways might you apply the knowledge or concepts from the DEI session in the future (in this class, future classes, or your internships or career)?
In their responses, students said they appreciated hearing about DEI specifically in relation to the communication industry. For many, this was the first time they had heard a DEI lecture or thought about these issues as they apply to their major. In fact, this was the first time many students had learned the definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Several students repeated those definitions in their responses. Many were also surprised at the lack of diversity in the industry. Students felt it was important to discuss DEI as an integral part of the communication curriculum and, “NOT as if this is something extra considered above and beyond in the comm world.”
Examples were helpful to students to envision how DEI can be applied in the field or to their own work in each class. When asked about what was missing from the presentations, students reiterated that more examples would be helpful. Students specifically wanted more examples of how they can apply DEI in the workplace. This was reiterated in class when students asked questions about how to deal with a supervisor or peer who does not believe in promoting DEI.
The Public Relations & Civic Responsibility presentation was given by a professor who immigrated to the United States from Costa Rica (the second author in this article). In responding to this session, students repeatedly stated how much they appreciated the personal examples from the instructor’s own lived experiences. For example, one student said, “I appreciated hearing about DEI from the perspective of a Costa Rican. It made the topic a lot more real and pressing coming from her own personal struggles.”
In stating what they learned from the modules, students often named specific theories or concepts from the presentations, showing that they were retaining the content. When asked how they would apply this information in the future, students in the introductory public relations class used terms like “understanding,” “keeping in mind,” and “being aware.” Students in the upper-level courses, where they were taught about applying DEI to research and campaigns, were more likely to use terms like “personal responsibility” or discuss how they could specifically apply the content to their projects and future workplaces. This aligns with the content in the lower-level course introducing students to DEI in the industry, while the upper-level courses were more about applying DEI specifically to research and campaigns. Noting these response differences helped discussions of how to scaffold the DEI modules for all our courses.
Quizzes and Student Reflections
Quiz questions relating to the content were included in two Strategic Research Methods classes and one Public Relations & Civic Responsibility class. For the three DEI quiz questions in the first Strategic Research Methods class, 88% of students responded correctly to all three questions. In the second Strategic Research Methods class, 100% of students responded correctly to the first and third questions, and 91% responded correctly to the second question. For the three quiz questions in the PR class, 86% of students responded correctly to the first and third questions, and 76% responded correctly to the third question.
In the spring of 2022, Strategic Campaigns class students reflected on what they learned from DEI readings assigned alongside the module. Readings included the two listed above from the Unstereotype Alliance and World Federation of Advertisers, as well as an article in Fast Company titled, “We need to talk about how the media and creatives portray Black people” (Dallis, 2020). Written as an open letter to the industry, the author reflects on how she felt as a Black woman, mother, and brand strategist following the murder of George Floyd. She discusses the power of the communication industry in shaping public perceptions of Black people and outlines 13 steps the industry can take to wield that power responsibly.
Students responded to the poignancy of the Dallis reading and appreciated how the reading reflected the perspective of a Black woman. One student wrote,
This article was incredible and so important for anyone in the communications industry to read. It can be easy to get caught up in the strategy or creativity of a campaign and forget the implications of being able to reach so many people with our ideas and portrayals of others.
The student went on to think about how we can access this cultural diversity in a predominantly White university: “We can spend time doing extensive research on the brand as it pertains to people of color and pull our insights from a wide range of sources, not just those who are readily accessible and convenient.”
On the World Federation of Advertisers guide, one student wrote:
The addition of questions throughout the campaign planning process, rather than the all too common, ineffective act of just a final DEI review, illustrates how integrating DEI . . . is an aid to reach more audiences, more effectively, and think more authentically.
Commenting on the Unstereotype Alliances 3 Ps reading, another student wrote, “Following the three Ps can help avoid tokenizing BIPOC individuals, where rather than just using them as tools to tell our stories, we can provide a platform to share their stories.”
Interestingly, in a reading reflection on a different reading several weeks later, a student mentioned the lack of diversity in the sources of the material:
This article caused me to think back to Reading Reflection #1 and the importance of hiring diverse teams not solely for inclusivity purposes but also for bringing new perspectives that can drive innovation and collaboration. When looking at the CMO section of this article, the headshots show me not much diversity at all . . . different CMOs would have added an extra dimension to this reading.”
This student’s response shows the importance of including diverse resources in our materials throughout the semester, and not just during a specific DEI discussion.
The modules were presented in courses by the two authors, as well as another enlisted professor. We each recorded notes on what worked well or didn’t work well in presenting the modules, the readings, and the activities; student discussions and specific questions raised when presenting the modules; timing of the modules and alignment with other class content/activities; and reflections on the identity of the instructor when presenting materials. Below are highlights from our reflections.
Customization and Application. Adding or adjusting content to align with a specific assignment, project, or client helps students apply the modules to their work. For example, during the presentation, a Strategic Campaigns instructor showed an old commercial from the brand students were working on and this sparked discussion about DEI challenges specific to their client. In two Strategic Research Methods classes, in addition to learning how to develop culturally sensitive research projects outlined in the module, students then applied that learning to a qualitative project where they conducted focus groups with Black participants. It is important to refer to the modules throughout the semester and develop assignments where students can apply what they learned to their class projects.
More Practical Examples are Needed. While the DEI modules deliver a 30,000 ft. view, it is helpful to provide further examples of how these concepts are applied in the field. More discussion questions during the different class sessions would also be appreciated by the students to share ideas and to have a moment to pause and reflect.
Reinforcing the Message from Industry Professionals. The day after the PR module was presented in a class, a DEI professional from a public affairs agency spoke to the class on how her agency applies DEI in their organization. This reinforced that it is not just instructors saying it is important – our industry thinks it is important.
Lived Experiences of the Instructor. One of the instructors is an immigrant to the United States from Costa Rica. It was helpful for her to share her own lived experiences with students about the challenges she faced during her long journey to become a U.S. citizen and her experience of being a Latinx public relations professional in a White-dominated industry. Not every faculty member will be able to do so. However, because these personal reflections resonated with students, we need to think about how we can further bring these experiences into the classroom.
Scaffolding. Since this was the first time many students had been introduced to DEI in our industry, and since the modules for each level of class were presented at the same time, we needed to explain the definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion in each presentation. In future years, the objective is for students to learn the basic DEI terminologies and concepts in the entry-level course, and then be able to apply that knowledge to the professional skill sets of each subsequent course.
Faculty Sharing and Feedback
While the modules were available for use by all Strategic Communications faculty in the fall semester, we held an information session in late spring where we discussed the modules in more detail, shared our assessment of the modules, and engaged in discussion with other faculty members. The 10 colleagues who attended this information session reacted very positively to these materials and expressed that they can see themselves using the modules as they were presented or also customizing certain aspects as needed.
A common theme from the feedback was that the modules provided a common language to be used across our department. One colleague said:
These modules do the important job of introducing students to a common grammar, to shared definitions and to be able to recognize what DEI is. Part of it is providing them with the grammar and with the cultural norms in relation to DEI, and then to find an applied thread to relate these concepts to.
In addition to shared DEI definitions, other colleagues said they appreciated the examples, case studies, real-world applications, and the suggestion of bringing in guest speakers “so that students see how these things matter and are applied in the world, even if, in their industry, they are not a DEI Vice-President or so.” In discussing one of the class activities, a colleague said,
“Most major brands are required to have diversity statements. But there is great power to see how brands are engaging in this conversation through words and actions. Students will encounter these realities when they work in this field.”
One of our colleagues reminded the group that this material is important for all students, not just our White students. The colleague said,
The Asian and Pacific Islander students that I work with have told me that learning more about DEI is not only important for them to pursue their own identity, but also because they need the language, the concepts, and the theories to really process what they are experiencing and feeling, and to process the microaggressions they often experience. This content helps them process their own realities and their own experiences. This is important content not just for White students but for students of all minority groups as well.
When asked what other materials or resources they might need to bring this kind of content into their classes, our colleagues suggested creating an additional module to use in our School of Communications’ introductory class (our equivalent of Introduction to Mass Communication, called Communications in a Global Age), which all Communications students take, no matter which of our five majors they go into later. A colleague said, for example:
Many of us teach COM1000 Communications in a Global Age. We need to be thinking of how to describe the history of the different mass communication fields in multicultural ways to avoid presenting this history only through a White-male lens. We need to expose our students not only to the Edward Bernays’ of our fields but to the Inez Kaisers as well.
At the end of this session, we reminded our colleagues that these materials are posted in our Department’s online learning site, and urged everyone attending the session to share other materials there as well. One of our colleagues, for instance, shared that she has a lesson plan she developed on the multicultural history of public relations, and she promised to share that lesson plan on our site or to create a video to post there for all of us to use in our classes.
Discussion and Conclusion
At a time when both faculty and students are overwhelmed by upheaval from the pandemic and the U.S. political and cultural climate, it is more important than ever to integrate DEI principles into our communication curricula. However, the chaos of the past two years has also made it difficult for faculty to find the time and resources to develop and integrate content that is relevant, research-based, and that can be applied in meaningful ways in our courses. Further, it is important that we look across the curriculum, and not just in our own courses, to ensure students are learning basic concepts and then progressing in their learning as they advance through their college career. We do this when we develop our core communication curricula, but we often do not integrate and scaffold DEI into our courses in the same systematic way. Faculty are often left to their own devices to infuse DEI individually into their courses without knowing what other faculty are doing or if their content is reinforcing what students have previously learned.
By taking the dual approach of creating agreed upon learning objectives, and then two faculty members taking a leadership role in developing and testing content that met those learning objectives, we were able to integrate DEI into our strategic communications curriculum in a more systematic way. Through the modules we created and the annotated bibliography we compiled for four of our required Strategic Communications courses, students were able to appreciate that we were teaching DEI concepts that specifically relate to their major and progressed from having “awareness” in the entry-level course to developing “personal responsibility” for applying DEI in their own assignments and careers in upper-level courses.
By reflecting on what worked well and what didn’t in presenting the modules and activities, we found that students need multiple examples of effective DEI applications, that pairing the content with specific class projects and speakers from the industry helps to reinforce the message, and that sharing the lived experience of diverse faculty members makes the content more real for students. In revising the modules, we incorporated more discussion questions throughout each module. Breaking the lesson plan into shorter segments helped to increase student participation and keep their attention and focus. We discovered that students are eager and willing to reflect on what they are learning through discussion questions at different moments of each class session.
In faculty conversations, we were also reminded to consider all students when teaching DEI, and not just those who have the most privilege, to provide marginalized students with the theories and concepts to help process their own lived experiences. In addition, through the faculty information session, we prompted a dialogue that allowed faculty to share their unique knowledge with each other and consider ways that other faculty members can include that knowledge in their teaching. Moving forward, it will be important to create a mechanism for continuing this dialogue as new information and resources come to light, and as we each progress in our intercultural competence.
Though PR programs at other universities may have different required and/or elective courses, this systematic approach to developing a DEI curriculum applies regardless of the specific classes. The self-study evidence that ACEJMC (2021) requires for the curriculum component of its DEI guidelines is fairly broad and includes 1) Course syllabi reflecting learning outcomes; 2) A grid outlining where cultural communication proficiency is taught in the curriculum; and 3) Assessment of that proficiency. Thus, cultural communication proficiency should align with and be integrated into the communication skills and proficiencies taught in each of our PR courses. Just as being a proficient communicator in the PR field means you know how to understand audiences, write, research, strategize, produce materials, and counsel management in an effective way, being “culturally proficient communicators” means we can do all these things through a DEI lens. The key is to build and scaffold learning objectives and content in a systematic way so that students are continually progressing in their DEI competence throughout their academic career.
A common limitation of pilot studies is “the possibility of making inaccurate predictions or assumptions on the basis of pilot data” (Teijlingen & Hundley, 2001). For example, because we are a predominantly White institution, the data is skewed toward this demographic. Testing the modules in classes with higher percentages of diverse identities may yield different results. Likewise, the limited timeframe of the study (one academic year) means our pilot captures one moment in time. Any changes in student demographics or the DEI knowledge of incoming students will necessitate ongoing evaluation of our DEI content.
Our pilot test also relied largely on qualitative data. In the future, we will need to closely monitor our quantitative curriculum assessments (e.g., our senior assessment exam and department climate surveys) to determine if results are tracking with our pilot test of the modules. Lastly, we know that faculty are at different levels in their own intercultural competence. A question remains if the level of instructor DEI competence will impact the delivery of –or student knowledge gained from– the modules.
ACEJMC (2021). Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications: 2021-June Revised Standards Final PDF. http://www.acejmc.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Revised-2021-22-Booklet-Final.pdf
AP (2022). The Associated Press stylebook: 2022-2024 (56th ed.). Basic Books.
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. https://aejmc.us/jpre/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2020/08/PDF-of-Bardhan-and-Gower-2020-from-JPRE-6.2-1.pdf
Baugh, E., & Guion, L. (2006). Using culturally sensitive methodologies when researching diverse cultures. Journal of Multidisciplinary Evaluation, 3(4), 1-12. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26501192_Using_Culturally_Sensitive_Methodologies_When_Researching_Diverse_Cultures
Brewer, J. (2019, September 23). How much designers earn and other data from the AIGA Design Census 2019. It’s Nice That. https://www.itsnicethat.com/news/design-census-2019-aiga-google-230919
Briliyanti, A., Wilson Rojewski, J., Luchini-Colbry, K., & Colbry, D. (2020). CyberAmbassadors: Results from pilot testing a new professional skills curriculum. In Proceedings of PEARC ’20: Practice and Experience in Advanced Research Computing, July 2020, p. 379-385. Association for Computing Machinery https://doi.org/10.1145/3311790.3396619
Brown, J. (2019). How to be an inclusive leader: Your role in creating cultures of belonging where everyone can thrive. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Burlew, K.A., Peteet, B.J., McCuistian, C., & Miller-Roenigk, B.D. (2019). Best practices for researching diverse groups. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 89(3), 354-368. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ort0000350
Cannon, L.J., Coolidge, E.M., LeGierse, J., Moskowitz, Y., Buckley, C., Chapin, E., Warren, M., & Kuzma, E.K. (2020). Trauma-informed education: Creating and pilot testing a nursing curriculum on trauma-informed care. Nurse Education Today, 85, 104256. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2019.104256
Capps, K. (2015, Sept. 2). How the federal government built white suburbia. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-02/how-the-federal-government-built-white-suburbia
Chitkara, A. (2018, April 12). PR agencies need to be more diverse and inclusive. Here’s how to start. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/04/pr-agencies-need-to-be-more-diverse-and-inclusive-heres-how-to-start
CNBC International TV (2018, July 7). Diversity in marketing, how far has the industry come? YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mc7s3pyACMs
Coates, T. N. (2014, June). The case for reparations. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
Collins, C. (2018, Fall). What is white privilege, really? LearningForJustice.org. https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/fall-2018/what-is-white-privilege-really?fbclid=IwAR1zY2WDHcrSa6oQUL61VBjbVlMToItjY4_6QUS-0rGVlrbjp9DcS_B4MEo
Curtis, M. (2014, Sept. 9). When white friends don’t believe what blacks go through, they’re not friends. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/09/09/when-white-friends-dont-believe-what-blacks-go-through-theyre-not-friends/
Dallis, I. (2020, June 4). We need to talk about how the media and creatives portray Black people. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90512750/we-need-to-talk-about-how-media-and-creatives-portray-black-people
Daykin, J., & Smith, B. (n.d.). Diversity and representation: Guide to potential areas for bias in the creative process. World Federation of Advertisers. https://wfanet.org/knowledge/diversity-and-inclusion/wfa-diversity-and-inclusion-hub
DiAngelo, R. (2018, Nov.21). Why people should see color, and more from the author of White Fragility. The Seattle Times. https://www.seattletimes.com/life/lifestyle/why-white-people-should-see-color-and-more-from-the-author-of-white-fragility/
Diversity Action Alliance (2021). Race and ethnicity in public relations and communications benchmark report. https://www.diversityactionalliance.org/diversity-action-news/new-diversity-action-alliance-analysis-finds-only-21-of-pr-professionals-are-racially-or-ethnically-diverse
Dunleavy, K. (2022, February 15). Diversifying PR: How the industry can recruit, retain, and nurture Black talent according to the president of the National Black Public Relations Society. Muck Rack. https://muckrack.com/blog/2022/02/15/diversifying-pr-with-neil-foote
Elliott. M. & Hughes, J. (2019, Aug.19). Four hundred years after enslaved Africans were first brought to Virginia, most Americans still don’t know the full story of slavery. The New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/19/magazine/history-slavery-smithsonian.html
Georgetown University, (n.d.b.). Inclusive pedagogy toolkit. Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship. https://cndls.georgetown.edu/ip-toolkit/
Georgetown University, (n.d.b). Inclusive pedagogy toolkit: Content. Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship. https://cndls.georgetown.edu/ip-toolkit/content/
Georgetown University, (n.d.c.). Inclusive pedagogy toolkit: Pedagogy. Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship. https://cndls.georgetown.edu/ip-toolkit/pedagogy/
Gómez, A., Padrós, M., Ríos, O., Liviu-Catalin, M., & Puke-Puke, T., (2019). Reaching social impact through Communicative Methodology. Researching with rather than on vulnerable populations: The Roma Case. Frontiers in Education, 4(9), 1-8 https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2019.00009
Goodman, D.J. (2020). Cultural competence for equity and inclusion. Understanding and Dismantling Privilege, 10(1), 41-60. https://www.wpcjournal.com/article/view/20246
Guilford, G. (2018, Sept.1). Black income is half that of white households in the U.S. — just like it was in the 1950s. Quartz. https://qz.com/1368251/black-income-is-half-that-of-white-households-just-like-it-was-in-the-1950s/
Hannah-Jones, N. (2019, Aug.14). Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true. The New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html
Hannah-Jones, N. (2021). The 1619 project: A new origin story. One World.
Hongladarom, S. (2019, May 21). The case for uniting East and West to build ethical AI. Quartz. https://qz.com/1620028/we-need-to-unite-eastern-and-western-philosophies-to-build-ethical-ai/
Jan, T., McGregor, J., Merle, R., & Tiku, N. (2020, June 13). As big corporations say ‘black lives matter,’ their track records raise skepticism. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/06/13/after-years-marginalizing-black-employees-customers-corporate-america-says-black-lives-matter/
Landis, K. (2019, March 19). The public relations industry is too white and the solution starts with higher education. Insight Into Diversity. https://www.insightintodiversity.com/the-public-relations-industry-is-too-white-and-the-solution-starts-with-higher-education/
Livermore, D. (2016, May 27). Leading a brainstorming session with a cross-cultural team. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/05/leading-a-brainstorming-session-with-a-cross-cultural-team
Lockhart, P.R. (2019, August 16). How slavery became America’s first big business. Vox. https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/8/16/20806069/slavery-economy-capitalism-violence-cotton-edward-baptist
Logan, N. (2021). A theory of corporate responsibility to race (CRR): communication and racial justice in public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 33(1), 6-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/1062726X.2021.1881898
Lowell, R. (2020, June 18). A look at the history of racist images and brands as companies remove them. Spectrum News. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/rochester/human-interest/2020/06/19/history-of-racist-images-and-brands-as-companies-remove-them
Luttrell, R., & Wallace, A. (2021). Shifting the paradigm: Improving student awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through public relations campaigns. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 200-209. https://aejmc.us/jpre/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2021/05/JPRE-71.pdf#page=200
Marszalek (2021, June 1). One year later: What the PR industry has done to dismantle systemic racism. PRovoke Media. https://www.provokemedia.com/long-reads/article/one-year-later-what-the-pr-industry-has-done-to-dismantle-systemic-racism
McFarlane, C. (2016, May 30). Why diversity matters in social media. Social Media Week Toronto. https://www.socialmediaweektoronto.com/2016/05/30/diversity-matters-social-media/
Michigan State University (n.d.). Pilot testing in the shared discovery curriculum. https://curriculum.chm.msu.edu/about/sdc-pilots
Modern Marketing Partners (2017, June 1). A Chiquita PR campaign was powerful enough to topple the Guatemalan government. https://www.modernmarketingpartners.com/2017/06/01/chiquita-pr-campaign/
Moore, T. (2020, June 19). Why PR firms have failed at executive diversity. PR Week. https://www.prweek.com/article/1687052/why-pr-firms-failed-executive-diversity
Mulholland, J. (2019, May 19). Things I didn’t know. Note To My White Self. https://notetomywhiteself.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/things-i-didnt-know/?fbclid=IwAR3mOzT9-KBhD30H_bmUYlGr-ckjgBQc81IeLUnQijkaozAEWmt_D_SAquk
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. http://www.commissionpred.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/report6-full.pdf
Neufeld, S. D., Chapman, J., Crier, N., Marsh, S., McLeod, J., & Deane, L. A. (2019). Research 101: A process for developing local guidelines for ethical research in heavily researched communities. Harm reduction journal, 16(1), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12954-019-0315-5
Noe-Bustamante, L., & Flores, A. (2019, Sept.16). Facts on Latinos in the U.S. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/fact-sheet/latinos-in-the-u-s-fact-sheet/
Northwest Center for Sustainable Resources (n.d.). Toolbox for curriculum documentation and testing. https://atecentral.net/r18652/toolbox_for_curriculum_documentation_and_testing
Office of Regulatory Affairs and Research Compliance (2020). ORARC tip sheet: Inclusive demographic data collection. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/2102/2020/04/ORARC-Tip-Sheet-Inclusive-Demographic-Data-Collection.pdf
PBS (2003). RACE – The power of an illusion. PBS.org. https://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-03-02.htm
Pew Research Center (2022). https://www.pewresearch.org/
PRSA (2022). Diversity & Inclusion. https://www.prsa.org/about/diversity-inclusion
Statista (2021). Share of employees in the advertising and promotions industry in the United States in 2021, by ethnicity. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1179684/advertising-industry-employees-share-by-ethnicity-united-states/
Swart, J.W., Richards, J., Zhao, W. (2020). Understanding food processing and systems: Pilot testing a standards-aligned middle school curriculum. Journal of Food Science Education, 19(2), 74-84. https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4329.12181
Teijlingen, Edwin, R. and Hundley, V. (2001). The importance of pilot studies. Social Research Update, 35, 1-4. https://sru.soc.surrey.ac.uk/SRU35.html
Torres, M. G. (n.d.). Becoming an antiracist educator. Wheaton College Massachusetts, Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning. https://wheatoncollege.edu/academics/special-projects-initiatives/center-for-collaborative-teaching-and-learning/anti-racist-educator/
Unstereotype Alliance (2021a.) State of the industry: An assessment of progress in diversity, equity and inclusion across the global advertising industry. https://www.unstereotypealliance.org/en/resources/research-and-tools/2020-annual-report
Unstereotype Alliance (2021b.). 3Ps Unstereotype marketing communications framework. https://www.unstereotypealliance.org/en/resources/research-and-tools/3ps-unstereotype-marketing-communications-playbook
Unstereotype Alliance (n.d.). https://www.unstereotypealliance.org/en
U.S. Census Bureau (2019). Quick facts: United States. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/RHI725219
Vanderbilt University (n.d.). How to ask about sexuality/gender. https://www.vanderbilt.edu/lgbtqi/resources/how-to-ask-about-sexuality-gender
Walker, T. (2020, September 1). Why diversity in ads is more important than ever for revenue. Aspire. https://aspire.io/blog/why-diversity-in-ads-is-more-important-than-ever-for-revenue-2020/
Waymer, D., & Dyson, O. (2011). The journey into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory: Exploring the role and approaches of race in PR education. Journal of Public Relations Research, 23(4), 458-457. https://doi.org/10.1080/1062726x.2011.605971
Zavala, M. (2013). What do we mean by decolonizing research strategies? Lessons from decolonizing, Indigenous research projects in New Zealand and Latin America. Decolinization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 2(1), 55-71. https://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/education_articles/106/
© Copyright 2023 AEJMC Public
To cite this article: Bush, L. and Bravo, V. (2023). Systematically
applying DEI accreditation standards to a strategic communication curriculum. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(4), 128-160. https://journalofpreducation.com/2023/02/24/systematically-applying-dei-accreditation-standards-to-a-strategic-communications-curriculum/