On this date a year ago, that word without context had no meaning on the Internet.
But in the year since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the one-year anniversary that will occur this weekend, the word has taken on an entirely new meaning. Ferguson conjures images of protests and riots, of buildings and cars ablaze.
For the academy, the killing of Michael Brown and the protests and legal proceedings that followed brought what The Chronicle of Higher Education calls “unusually powerful” lessons in the classroom and for administrators. Professors weaved the high-profile event into their coursework; student affairs and diversity education leaders held seminars and colloquia on the topics of race, bias and diversity; students held die-ins; and countless faculty experts were consulted by countless media organizations. (My colleagues at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which was near the epicenter of the shooting and protests, did an exemplary job of managing media relations and working with faculty members whose expertise helped put the developing story into context.)
It’s no doubt that Ferguson has forever altered the discussion of race relations, diversity and inclusion in our nation, our world, our campuses.
But how has it affected higher ed marketing?
That’s a topic I attempted to discuss in a blog post last May called Marketing, diversity and inclusion in #highered. I asked: “How can those of us in the marketing and communications business help our colleges and universities achieve that goal of ‘inclusive excellence’ while not sugar-coating issues or portraying our institutions in a manner that may come closer to wishful thinking than reality?” My answer consisted of these five tactics. I believe that, in light of the tragic anniversary we are about to mark, they are worth sharing again.
- Talk about diversity with your team. A good place to start is to talk about how you present diversity in marketing materials. You might start by sharing that research paper cited above and discussing it with your team. Think about how you present diversity. Do you focus only on the visual, ethnic appearances? Do they truly reflect your student body? Talk about other aspects of diversity beyond race. How do your materials represent the gay community on your campus, for example?
- Educate yourself. Many institutions offer diversity training. Typically the training is focused more on student affairs and HR offices. But there’s no reason a marketing person shouldn’t be able to sit in on some training. Ask your HR staff if any diversity training is available. Then take advantage of it.
- Serve. Most colleges and universities should have committees dedicated to diversity, inclusion or equity. Volunteer to serve on that committee. You’ll have the chance to work with many people from outside the marketing and communications field. In the process, you’ll learn more about other aspects of your campus administration, your student body and yourself. You’ll also provide a perspective that is sometimes missing from these sorts of committees. You could also serve as an advisor of a student organization that represents some aspect of diversity.
- Recruit for diversity. If you are a manager, make it a priority to recruit for diversity. The teams that work best are those that bring diverse viewpoints to the table.
- Tell your school’s diversity stories. Authentically. Every institutions has stories of diversity. These stories are an integral part of the fabric for your university’s meta-narrative. Tell these stories, authentically. For example, when our university’s chapter of the black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this spring, our writer didn’t shy away from talking about the struggles early members had establishing the organization. “There were some difficulties in getting the fraternity off the ground,” one of the founding members is quoted as saying in the story. He describes the challenges of starting an African American fraternity in a small, predominantly white Midwestern town during the racial unrest of 1965. That story is an important part of Missouri S&T’s larger story, which is part of our nation’s larger story. It needs to be told.
I hope you’ll weigh in with your own thoughts on this difficult but important and often emotionally charged topic.
Photo via Wikipedia: Shooting of Michael Brown.