Diversity and inclusion are not new ideas in higher education, especially with regards to university and college communications. Many schools have had diversifying their student body as part of their strategic plans for years. But how do we, as higher ed communicators and as human beings, try to capture our aspirational campuses without creating materials that grossly misrepresent our campus demographics and without exploiting our current student population to do so?

Scroll down to read the complete transcript.

Our Guests: 

  • Kevin Tyler was, at the time of recording in mid-August, the Insights Director at Ologie, a branding and marketing agency specializing in higher education, arts and culture organizations, and non-profit projects. He is now Director of Communications at the UCLA School of Nursing.
  • Janice Cheng-McConnell is the Assistant Director of Graduate Enrollment Communications at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Originally from Taiwan, she now lives in central New York.

Our Host:

Heather Dotchel is the host of Higher Voltage. She is a Philadelphia-based higher ed marketing professional who most recently led two area colleges as their chief marketing officer.

Notes, links and references from the show:

  • Kevin’s piece for Campaign Monitor about inclusion in higher ed marketing.
  • Kevin’s blog home on Medium.
  • A resource Kevin & Janice (and Volt!) both love: Campus Sonar
  • First Gen: A newsletter about the lived experiences of first generation college students in the U.S. by journalist Zipporah Osei, who’s also a senior at Northeastern University.

A few great follows for anyone interested in exploring diversity and inclusion in higher ed:

  • Julia Golden-Battle (@JuliaRGolden) who’s the Associate Dean of Students at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences said, “Diversity and inclusion work is both a process and a goal involving self-reflection…”
  • Reshma Saujani (@reshmasaujani) Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, who has a great TED Talk and new book called “Brave, Not Perfect”
  • Rachel E. Cargle of The Great Unlearn (@TheGreatUnlearn on Instagram) on the roots and fruits of racism as well as the generational trauma of a racist history. Her Instagram and website are both masterclasses in how to be an effective ally.  
  • Dr. Scott Olivieri did a wonderful presentation at a HighEdWeb conference on diversity on higher education websites, which was also the focus of his doctorate. 

Schools that Kevin and Janice pointed to as displaying diversity authentically:

  • MIT: Both their website and social media presence are all 100% story-driven so the content doesn’t feel forced or contrived; they let their community members take the center stage, not any internal stakeholder agenda. Every story is optimized for the platform it shows up on and that alone makes it feel totally on brand. This is no surprise because their social media is led by Jenny Li Fowler, who is herself an incredible Twitter account to follow, her handle is @thejennyli.
  • NYU’s admissions Instagram account (@meetnyu)

Finally, if you are interested in the literary world of romance and the conversations about marginalization that’s happening in that corner of the publishing industry, Janice suggests starting by following Courtney Milan (@courtneymilan), who is a tireless advocate for diversity and inclusion in romance and also a romance author herself. Also this article: Vivian Stephens Helped Turn Romance Writing Into a Billion-Dollar Industry. Then She Got Pushed Out. and the Black Romance Podcast by Julie Moody-Freeman.

Read the Complete Transcript

Heather Dotchel:

Hello, and welcome to Higher Voltage, a podcast that explores the ins and outs of higher education marketing and touches on all aspects of the business of higher education. We are brought to you by eCity Interactive. For more than 20 years, eCity has been creating marketing strategies, websites and digital experiences for higher ed institutions, large and small. Inspired by challenge and proven by results, eCity can help you solve the greatest challenges facing your institution today. My name is Heather Dotchel. You have most recently encountered me leading the marketing and communications teams at two Philadelphia area colleges. Welcome to Higher Voltage.

Heather Dotchel:

Diversity and inclusion are not new ideas in higher education, especially with regards to university and college communications. Many schools have had diversifying their student body as part of their strategic plan for years. How do we as higher ed communicators and as human beings, try to capture our aspirational campuses without creating materials that grossly misrepresent our campus demographics and without exploiting our current student population to do so?

Heather Dotchel:

We have two great guests today to explore not only our physical representation in institutional communications, but also why this topic reaches much deeper into our campus culture. Kevin Tyler currently serves as the Insights Director at Ology, a branding and marketing agency specializing in higher education, arts and culture organizations and non-profit projects. He lives in Columbus, Ohio. Janice Cheng-McConnell is the Assistant Director of Graduate Enrollment Communications at Syracuse Universities, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Originally from Taiwan, she now lives in Central New York. Kevin, tell us a little bit more about yourself, particularly about your current activism in the space of diversity and inclusion.

Kevin Tyler:

Sure. So thanks Heather for having me. This is a really great opportunity. I’m excited to be here. I’m from Columbus, Ohio. I’ve lived here all my life. I joined Ology about five or six years ago and learned how much I love higher ed through the work I do now. In my role at Ology as Insights director, I basically read, write and research all things higher ed, from admissions to trends, enrollment trends, advancement and everything in between. So I’m basically like the office nerd when it comes to higher ed conversations. And so I’m really excited to be able to dip in and out and lend expertise to certain projects that make our work smarter for our clients.

Kevin Tyler:

So I went to the University of Pittsburgh. I have a degree in English writing and spent several years in electoral politics at the local state and federal levels, working for candidates and issues up and down the ballot. And then spent several years in marketing and communications roles at a couple of large corporations in Ohio. In terms of diversity and inclusion, it’s a topic and an issue that’s near and dear to my heart. I do my best to raise issues around diversity and inclusion when it’s time to raise those issues. As a black man, openly gay, there are lots of dynamics to navigate in certain situations. And so I try to make sure that the conversations that I’m in end up being comprehensive and inclusive and equitable and consider all the outcomes that benefit the most people. And so that’s what I try to do in my professional life, in my personal life and as a human.

Heather Dotchel:

Janice, can you share a bit about your journey into the world of US higher education and your professional path?

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

Sure. I would love to. So I came to the United States as an international student back in 2010. I went to Bington University in Central New York. Before higher ed, I was a media manager for a small independent romance publishing company. I ran their social media channels as well as did some graphic design and copy editing. I absolutely loved that job. And then my higher ed career started in the office of continuing education at Bington University. I worked with adult learners, veterans, local business owners and I’ve since worked as a marketing and communication specialist at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for Steppington, then at a small private liberal arts college, and now at Syracuse University. I studied creative writing as an undergraduate, and then went on to get my MBA.

Heather Dotchel:

This summer has been one of great unrest, but also of great hope. Our country is still so embroiled in the politics of other, and the blatant racism that we hear about day after day is just overwhelming and repugnant. That said, I also don’t remember a time when so many people seem to be getting motivated to do something, whether it is protesting the streets, call in support political action or use social media as an actionable force for good. It’s a time of reckoning for our campuses. And as we dig deeper into our deep systematic domestic racism, the tendrils of how intertwined this is in daily life are exposed. So as we were planning what topics we wanted to cover in Higher Voltage, diversity was always high on our list, and we have a myriad of episode ideas to explore higher ed’s relationship with our student populations.

Heather Dotchel:

This particular podcast genesis came from some social media exploration I was doing. I found many conversations from students of various diverse backgrounds talking about how they felt exploited in college and university communications materials becoming what they were felt were token faces, oftentimes for years to represent a campus culture that didn’t exist. I read these and my heart dropped, literally. Wondering if I were guilty of that without intention and of causing such hurt. So let’s talk about how we can make sure that we are never excluding, but neither are we exploiting our community. Let’s start with a quick primer. What is the difference between diversity, inclusion and equity? Many of us tend to use these interchangeably, but they mean different things. Kevin, can you speak to the difference?

Kevin Tyler:

Sure. I think that there are subtle differences for different people around what these words mean, but to me, diversity in and of itself is the way that we exist in the world as individuals, right? Like the things that make us up as people is diversity. I think when you start talking about inclusion, it’s about being invited to tables of influence or decision making or other sort of authority or power. And I think that, that is a different kind of level. And then when we talk about an equity, that is about understanding some of the obstacles that are attached to who people are just by birth or by where they live and endeavoring to remove those obstacles. So everyone has an equal starting line, an equal access to an opportunity. That’s how I look at it in terms of my work.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

So these are not simple questions and simple answers, but you can certainly start by understanding them in a metaphor that’s simple. So think of a party. Diversity is who is invited to the party. Inclusion is during the party who is being asked to dance. And equity is for those people at the party who don’t want to dance, do they also have a way of enjoying and participating in the party? Diversity, inclusion and equity are what I call threshold concepts. They start a conversation, but the dialogue can not end there. You can’t toss these words around, and that is all the work that you’re doing.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

These are concepts that are based in human relationships and human actions, and they can only grow with varying tensional human centered design. You can’t say, “Oh, let’s hire a diverse candidate “Peer” and that’ll be good enough. That’ll make us inclusive.” No, that’s not good enough. A resource that I find helpful here is the Great Unlearn. It’s a community funded educational platform, highlighting academics and experts of color, talking about racism, discrimination and the intellectual on learning you have to do, the emotional uncoupling that you have to do to understand what got us here as a nation and where we can go. The creator’s name is Rachel Cargle, who is an author and academic herself. And you can find it, the Great Unlearn on Instagram and Patreon at The Great Unlearn

Heather Dotchel:

As I listened to the difference in definition but also perception for these concepts of diversity, inclusion and equity, we’re not just talking about abstract things here, we’re talking about people. When we look at the demographic shifts that are coming up in higher education, how do these shifts in student polls interact with these ideas on campus?

Kevin Tyler:

Yeah, I think this is going to be really interesting, right? And this has been predicted for years now. And I think that higher ed institutions who haven’t been planning for these demographic shifts, not just in race and ethnicity, but also in income levels and international students and all these other kinds of ways that we bring diversity and inclusion to a campus. That needs to be strategized. That’s not something that you can just say, you’re all are welcome here, because there’s going to be a new vernacular that needs to be introduced to talk about what services and supports that are available on a campus.

Kevin Tyler:

You also have to create those services and supports on your campus to backup the messages or the pictures and what you’re telling people about the community and the culture of your space. Because if those supports aren’t there, the indication or the assumption is that this is not a very diverse place. And so there will be like new needs for colleges and universities to meet, for new people that institutions may not have had to deal with before. And so it’s going to be an intentional … it’s an intentional act to start to attract new kinds of audiences because the deliberation of those conversations depends on understanding who they are as people and attracting them to places that they fit in best.

Heather Dotchel:

And we talk a lot about that on the undergraduate levels. Janice, do you see similar demographic shifts in the graduate and adult populations?

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

Yes, definitely. We are having this conversation right now, very much still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. And before that, the graduate studies’ environment was already seeing some shifts in demographics, but now given the pandemic and the political climate, I think there will definitely be a lot of people coming back and reconsidering graduate studies as a way to move forward, as a way to shift careers. Our favorite word of the year is pivot. To pivot their lives and careers and using graduate studies as a jumping off point. And so we will see, I think a lot of, not only a lot of undergraduate students who are going straight into graduate studies, but also returning adult learners who will need different services that have not been there before, who will need different advising directions that helps them see how graduate studies can put their lives back together as it were.

Kevin Tyler:

If I may add just a thought there. I think that adult learner population is important to consider because they have different needs as well. And some, obviously we all know that there are millions of people who have some college and no degree. So when they start to come back, if and when they start to come back, there are going to be different systems in place because as you get older, new needs need to be met. And there are new challenges around how time is managed.

Kevin Tyler:

And flexibility is going to be the number one priority for these folks. And so when we talk about diversity and inclusion, when it comes to campus communities, age is going to be a factor as well, because as these jobs are being lost and people need to be up-skilled or re-skilled, it’s going to have to … their institutions will have to cater in a different way to a different group of people.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

I think it’s important to also think about the fact that a lot of people are going to be returning to the higher ed space with a lot of trauma, with a lot of trauma that’s been felt by the loss of their jobs, with the loss of family members, and that is going to manifest in different ways for 18 year olds versus 28 year olds versus 35 year olds. And I think higher ed has … isn’t in a unique position to be able to accommodate these students and help them as opposed to put them into a classroom and expect them to be able to adapt to whatever that classroom currently looks like. And I think it’s really a time of opportunity in this particular aspect.

Heather Dotchel:

So let’s talk specifically a little bit more about the groups that we keep alluding to. So of course, our initial reaction when we talk about diversity is saying, okay, let’s make sure that our materials all have a wide gamut of faces and races and ethnicity in the background that all like betray my age, the Benetton ad of higher ed publications. We’re just not talking about students of color and making sure that they are represented in our materials. What other groups do college and university marketing and comm teams and enrollment teams too, since they work so closely with the recruitment materials need to make sure that they are including in these materials to make sure that they are inclusive of all of our different populations, not just simply ones broken down by virtue of color?

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

I think there’s always a discussion within marketing communications teams about who to display and who should be the face of the university campus. And I remember because I worked at a very small private liberal arts college, we were less than 500 students. Every single ad that we created, every single brochure, poster that featured students, we had to make sure that it actually was a student of the major, of the geographic region, of whatever it was that we were making the creative for, the student actually was someone who fit the bill because students will call us out.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

I remember running a transfer campaign for transfer students, and we had a student as the face of the campaign who was not a transfer student. And that I think, if I remember correctly, that was just because we didn’t have … We were so small and we had a handful of transfer students who couldn’t make it to the photo shoot session. So we pulled another student who was not a transfer student. But our campus community very quickly responded and students were not okay with that because it did not authentically represent who they were.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

And I think that not only shows that students are paying attention to what you’re putting out there into the world, but it also shows that they care about how they’re represented to the outside community, especially if you’re a smaller school and the fit and feel of your campus is the way that you’re leading your admission communications. That is so important to make sure that whoever it is that you are putting into your imagery, into your videography, they are actually who you say they are.

Kevin Tyler:

I think it’s really important also obviously, understanding all the different dimensions of diversity that institution is trying to recruit is first and foremost. I think the second piece is that the imagery that you’re using is going to be really important. I mean, I think for a long time in higher ed, I mean, when you think about higher ed, I think a lot of people think about the five different kinds of people sitting under a tree in the quad and like inside of a view book. And for a long time, that kind of image worked because it, wasn’t only about the college itself, but it was also about the idea of college and this intersectionality that exists on a college campus.

Kevin Tyler:

But I think what people often forget is how important the language is that they use in their materials, right? And so when we’re marketing for a college, it’s about how broad or how many people we can touch with a single piece, right? A view book, there’s usually one version of a view book, right? And that version is supposed to connect to, engage and attract so many people. And is that really fair? Is that view book really built to do that amount of work, right? And so I think language is important. I think understanding student experiences, I think understanding where people come from and understanding how historically different kinds of people come to industries or institutions that we trust and have a different kind of feeling about that, right?

Kevin Tyler:

So historically, African Americans, Black people couldn’t be educated with other people historically. And we have a whole other system of higher ed and HBCUs that exists now. And so what does that mean when you’re courting students to a predominantly white institution? There are different conversations that have to be had, that they would have at an HBCU. So I think the industry needs to prepare itself to be held more accountable because let’s be clear, we are in an age of simple validation, right?

Kevin Tyler:

If someone hears a message from an institution, it is easily Google-able to see how accurate that message is, whether it’s via social media or some review, whatever it is, professor reviews, it’s all easily confirmable. And so institutions are going to have to educate themselves on how they want to attract and recruit these students. And really, and I hate to say this word, authentic ways that are valid and real.

Heather Dotchel:

Okay. So how can institutions both acknowledge they’re not as diverse as they should be, or there are historical reasons they are not diverse, while encouraging their perspective student, faculty and staff, to join their community?

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

I love the point that Kevin made. At the end of the day higher education is a product. And how do you market that product to your potential buyers/customers, it really frames the way you can approach something like a view book. And I think you don’t have to come from a perspective of automatic assumption of guilt that you are not diverse. I think that’s the lazy way out. I think you need to have a discussion or higher education leadership and the relevant offices need to be around the same table and talk about why are we where we are? Why does our student population look like this? What have been the previous enrollment practices that have led to this? What are on campus retention activities and programs that have led to certain students thriving on campus while other groups of students did not?

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

I think it can’t just be a, oh, we’re not diverse enough, quick so I have someone in a wheelchair on the brochure. Like that doesn’t work. That’s not authentic. Oh, man, that is … it won’t get you very far because like Kevin said, students are very good on Google. They’re very good at peer to peer marketing is so powerful, and there are so many different ways they can get that. So what that means is there are many different ways your institution and your branding can lose your control of the narrative.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

So I think you should try to, wherever you do have control over your own narrative, over how your institution and your campus is perceived, you should do a really good job of really deliberate and intentional job that comes out of discussions featuring multiple stakeholders in the community, not just the marketing director, not just the admissions VP. It has to be everybody around this. Everyone who is involved in the student’s journey on your campus, that includes campus life, residence life, alumni relations, career development, all those people who touch a faculty of course, who have a part in the students experience on campus should be part of the conversation in some way.

Kevin Tyler:

I agree with that. I think also important is understanding the intent around the desire to diversify, right? And so for so long rankings ruled like everything about higher ed. And inherently rankings are exclusive of other kinds of people in the higher ed space, right? Higher ed was not made for diverse communities. Originally, higher ed was made for the learned white men, right? And so as the world evolves and as the industry of higher education evolves, there are new intentions about diversifying a campus. And I think that like, again, I come back to language, I think, thinking about the benefit of diversity to students on a campus, like the balance that we talk about that in, right? And so it comes from a very Anglocentric perspective, right?

Kevin Tyler:

Like what is the benefit of having a diverse … where students can learn from other cultures. When you say other cultures, it puts the White person at the center of that conversation. And as the higher ed institution, that’s not who it is anymore. And so I think it’ll be super interesting to see what the new center of that conversation looks like and how it is messaged to the people that are trying to attract.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

I absolutely love that. I think there are so many nuanced and subtle ways that we are sending a specific message to our students that just because we’ve been so immersed in it as marketers and communicators, that we just don’t see it anymore. I would like to share a resource that I find very helpful. I attended a presentation by Dr. Scott Olivieri, at a high ed web conference several years ago. He’s currently the Director of Web Services at Boston College. And you can find his presentation slides on the head website on their online journal link.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

But he spent his entire doctorate capstone researching websites from higher education institutions and specifically looking at diversity and how diversity, first of all, what does the institution think diversity is and what that looks like on their web pages. And he talks a lot about the concepts of design. For example, if you’re using an image of a faculty of color, on different optimizations of this web page, is that picture cutoff? And if that picture is cut off, that means that the only thing you care about for that faculty is the fact that their skin color is different or their skin color is not White.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

And so these very small, subtle ways in which we are framing how we think about diversity is super important. It’s a really fascinating point because if it were not for his presentation, I would never have thought about, I mean, of course imagery is important and you don’t want to use the same photos of the same students again and again, but also the way that you’re using them, where you are using them in relation to the content on the web pages and the subliminal messaging of what that means to your audience.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

So I remember Dr. Olivieri talked a lot about if there’s a state … first of all, if there’s a statement for diversity and inclusion that tells you what the institution feels, what their stance is and where they put that diversity statement? First of all, do they call it a diversity statement or do they call it something else? And do they put it under campus life right on the homepage, or do they bury it somewhere under about history, Dean’s office and it’s like six clicks away? And all of that tells the students who might be looking … and students are more and more, they are smart. These kids are so smart, they’re so savvy. And I cannot wait to see what they do in the next five to 10 years, but they are looking for stuff like that.

Kevin Tyler:

I think that raises some really interesting ideas. And I think, broadly speaking, higher ed marketing, again, broadly speaking is about signaling, right? As people are flipping through your materials, the goal is to have them see some part of themselves in your materials and further, they’ll see themselves on your campus. And what that has the potential to do is easily slide into stereotyping. And then that is the message shifts significantly from, oh, this must be what they think about this kind of person on their campus, if this is who they’re highlighting. And so the message gets warped in a way that is not beneficial for the brand.

Kevin Tyler:

And then if they do further research and understand how structures exist on college campuses and where diversity might sit, because oftentimes diversity offices sit in either student affairs or HR, and those are the ways that we measure it and filter it. And that doesn’t give diversity a comprehensive view of what’s going on, on campus. It doesn’t give people and departments and other places opportunities to respond to things that are happening on campus. And that it could mean that there isn’t a campus wide plan about how we’re going to approach this issue. And so that signaling can either benefit the brand and the effort of recruitment and engagement, or it can be detrimental to everything that you’re doing,

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

Putting out content and stories that represents its community in a really faithful, direct, non-pretentious way is MIT. MIT, just across their website and their social media channels, they are leading with stories. They’re leading with the people and the personalities, and then letting everything else fall, where they may. And I think that’s so powerful and because your students and your faculty and the members of your community are doing interesting things. And if you focus on that and highlighting that and their contributions to the community, instead of the different “Diversity factors” that you’re checking off the boxes, it can be so powerful. And their social media, the MIT social media is led by Jenny Li Fowler, who is herself an incredible Twitter account to follow. Her handle is @thejennyli.

Kevin Tyler:

One of my absolute favorite social media accounts to follow, especially in this space of diversity, inclusion and equity is the MIT NYU Instagram account. They do such a great job of demonstrating diversity without calling any of it out. They can tell stories about interdisciplinarity with images of an international student wearing a lab coat and also doing extremely intricate ballet moves, right? There’s this idea that we bring our whole selves to this experience on this campus without having to talk about the slices and dices of who we are as individuals. And that to me is like what a successful approach to diversity, inclusion and equity looks like, where you’re not even having to use the words, you just notice it immediately. And I think that’s super helpful. Like their study abroad programs, who they have doing their Instagram stories. It is a fascinating and fabulous example of what great diversity, inclusion and equity strategies look like on social media.

Heather Dotchel:

This interwoven deep communication strategy is something we need to take notice of, because so much of public social media is beyond our control. I’m specifically thinking of the black and institution hashtag from this summer. First, let me say that we all need to read these messages with open minds to find out where we need to do better and how we can help affect change. Second, when our diverse campus experiences are authentically integrated into our communicated identity, per your examples, we help to solidify our evolution as inclusive institutions who value all of our campus community.

Kevin Tyler:

Yeah. These new ways to let institutions know what their students need is really fascinating to me. And I think that if you don’t know if your institution has one of these black accounts, you need to find out immediately because it is now part of your marketing plan, whether you like it or not. Again, we all live in a very verifiable world. And if a student gets your view book or email or whatever, visits your website, and there’s a story being told there that they happen to run across a very contradictory story on while they’re scrolling through Instagram, you’re going to have a problem on your hands, right?

Kevin Tyler:

You’re going to not get that prospective student. You might lose prospective donors. There will be a consequence of some sort. And if you don’t know what those consequences might be, because you don’t know these accounts exist, you’re behind already. And I think about this new version of protest. I think about the 60s when they’re students, and they were students like in the last five years as well. But this new way of communicating need and this new way of communicating what the real story is on a campus is extremely powerful, and people are connecting over that. It is a movement that I’m not sure higher ed was ready for, and they have no control over it. And it’s just, I’m interested to see what happens next.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

Social listening is an incredibly powerful tool to help inform those parts of the narrative that have to do with your branding and marketing that are out of your control, that are peer contributed, that are community driven. And I think going back to what we previously talked about in terms of operating from a position of guilt. Just because these stories are out there doesn’t mean that these stories are representative of all the stories of similarly looking people. You don’t get to define student experiences, students define student experiences.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

And if all the programs that are coming out of your diversity inclusion office or multicultural office or whatever it is that you’re calling it, is purely reactive to the things that you are hearing, you can’t stop there. Keep going, dig deeper, talk to more people, include more stakeholders in your … I hate the word focus groups. Kevin hates authenticity and I hate focus groups, but just call them conversations. Have conversations with people. Don’t assume that you know what their experiences on your campus must be like.

Kevin Tyler:

And that’s a great point. And I do have to give a shout out, a major shout out to Liz Gross and her team at Campus Sonar for excellent, excellent social listening, toolkits and consultation that they provide to institutions across the country. So I have to give her a shout out. They have a great team over there.

Heather Dotchel:

We’ve spoken about who is represented in marketing collateral, but who makes these choices and whose biases subconscious, unconscious impact these choices?

Kevin Tyler:

So not too long ago, I wrote a piece for a campaign monitor that kind of talked a little bit about this. As a marketer, as a gay black marketer, I have an opportunity every single day to ask new questions about how we’re demonstrating what happens on … the culture on a college campus. And as marketers, we all have that opportunity every single day to ask new questions about how we’re telling the stories of our campuses. All it takes is one brave person to say, maybe we could change the dynamic of this image by putting something that actually exists here, number one. But also changes the way that this image or this piece might be received, right?

Kevin Tyler:

It doesn’t mean that, that [inaudible 00:31:26], that piece that has this new image needs to be a targeted mailing to the people who fit into the audience that you have now depicted in this piece. But it does change the conversation around culture and openness and how welcome you are, right? Because having the traditional picture of those four or five people under a tree, the Benetton ad as Heather referred to earlier is no longer actuality. And so how can you reframe the conversation around admission and recruitment, but also how can you reframe your brand as one that is open to all, right?

Kevin Tyler:

That is, has the supports that back up this message that you’re putting out into the world. And that’s incumbent upon the people who are developing the materials. That is a conversation, if you don’t understand the dimensions of these diverse audiences, then you can’t make smarter decisions about who to portray, and who to feature, and who to lift up in your materials. And that’s just kind of a low … that’s low hanging fruit that can be taken advantage of at any point.

Kevin Tyler:

I guess the other thing though is to make sure that this is, I said it already, but to make sure that this actually exists. And I think the intent has got to be the primary driver. Are we doing this because we actually want to make people think that we are who we want to be, or are we doing it to chase a ranking or to chase a box, a group of people because we have a deficiency in that space. I think that’s a conversation to have among your teams. Only you can decide what is driving these new decisions. But if what you’re depicting does not exist, that’s a major foul.

Heather Dotchel:

And making sure it exists is incumbent on each of us when we’re going through policy at institutions. And all of the pieces behind the scenes that form the identity that aren’t out there in a public brochure. So if you’re sitting around the table and I’ll pick on dress codes, you’re talking about dress codes on campus. You cannot dictate for example, that sneakers need to be of a certain quality and this and that, because what you’re doing there is taking these assumptions of the resources your students have and putting them in a very visible way. Like those things matter.

Heather Dotchel:

And as somebody, as part of that community, if you are truly trying to make an inclusive space, we have to be willing to speak up every step of the way from policy meetings to that glossy brochure and everything in between in order to do that.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

Well, it is incumbent on the people of a campus community to create inclusive spaces and brave spaces, it is also incumbent on the administration and the institution overall to set those people up for success. So not having repercussions for speaking out, not having repercussions for being brave and asking those questions that have never been asked before. Being able to say, “Hey, we’ve been doing it this way for a long time, should we look at doing it in another way?” That’s where it starts. And also training, providing training and professional development opportunities for your staff to help them learn about all these things so that they are not having to … I mean, while they should take it upon themselves to be better student affairs professionals, because that’s the field they’re in, they also need resources. They need support from the top down to be able to succeed at the highest level that they can.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

So training your staff to be able to have different perspectives about what being the first gen student looks like, what being an international student looks like, what being a differently abled student looks like, is super important on informing how they support, because these are people that are interacting with students on a day to day basis, and they will become part of the narrative that the student forms about what their college experience is.

Heather Dotchel:

It’s really important that we have that substantive support on campus. It’s not enough to get them to come to campus. Okay, we attracted you here. Great, fantastic. Go have a good two or four years. That doesn’t work. So what kinds of things do we need to put in place on our campus? What do we need, especially as mark-comm people, because really we’re relationship people. When you boil everything down, what do we need to advocate for on campus to make sure that we’re not simply drawing people in and then leaving them to hang?

Kevin Tyler:

There’s a lot there, but if I could just go back to the last question, just for a hot second, there are campuses that have very little racial and ethnic diversity. However, there are other kinds of diversity that exists on that campus. So you might need to redefine what you’re looking for and start to tell those stories. And when you tell those stories, if you happen to have an LGBTQIA plus population, then I would encourage you to tell those stories outside of June, which is typically known as Pride Month.

Kevin Tyler:

If you happen to have African American Black students telling their stories outside of the schedule, we are comfortable with telling the stories in, right? It’s about not highlighting the difference to me, but making sure that the difference makes you part of the community in ways that is special and very deeply connected. I understand the desire to support national months of Black history month and Hispanic American month and gay Pride Month. But those aren’t the only months those stories can exist. And if we make it more normal and regular to tell all of these stories all of the time, then maybe those months don’t even need to exist because we’re changing the conversation about it.

Kevin Tyler:

And so if you’re highlighting an alum or a student or whatever, or some sort of stakeholder, and there are differences that they are comfortable with talking about in an interview or whatever else, do that, and it will help build the inclusion or the equitable or diverse brand that you’re trying to create to me.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

Yeah, I’m going to drop another great resource, Julia Golden-Battle, who is the Associate Dean of Students at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She’s on Twitter @JuliarGolden. She said that diversity and inclusion work is both a process and a goal involving self-reflection. And I think what Kevin said about portraying your campus in a way that is true to you by redefining what diversity means to you, by redefining what your goals are. And it’s important because it’s both an ongoing process that will always be evolving and changing as different generations, those different groups of students come through to your campus, and also a goal. And I think having that sort of two pronged approach with this can help inform your strategy in a better way, in a more sustainable long term way.

Heather Dotchel:

So who is responsible for making sure that this representation happens? And I’m not just talking students here, how do we diversify our decisions makers?

Kevin Tyler:

I think that’s a really great question. I think that’s a question that I think about a lot. Again, I write a lot of stuff about higher ed. And one of the things that I strongly believe in is that there should be a cabinet level DE and I officer at every single campus. And I think what that does is moves it out of a department or moves it out of a function of a part of an institution and raises it up to the level where it, A, has priority and B, signals to prospective students and their families that this is important to the institution.

Kevin Tyler:

A cabinet, a president’s cabinet is essentially the priorities or what that person as president thinks is important for their institution. And so when you see someone who is a DE and I person sitting right next to the president, that is an indication to me that they have their ear on very important issues that are affecting the campus. And not only do they have their ear, but they also have purview or visibility into the entire campus. And UK does a really great job with some of this stuff. And they have weekly meetings and here are some of the things that we’re hearing on campus around some groups of students and that they’re unhappy about these things.

Kevin Tyler:

They can start to strategize how to meet the needs that these students are expressing so that they can get in front of it. And that’s what that gives you when you have someone at the table who’s only thinking about DE and I work. Otherwise, when it’s buried in like HR, or when it’s buried in student affairs, it is only measured by how many people do we have that look different if it’s in HR. Or if it’s in student services, it is, do we have all the right kinds of gay groups, black groups, women’s groups, whatever other groups, but it’s about having the full complement, but not what those services often offered, nor are those services or those groups always equipped to handle problems that arise from groups that have legitimate concerns about some of the cultural characteristics of your campus.

Kevin Tyler:

So those models, while they have worked for a long time, diversity, equity, inclusion has now elevated itself into another stratosphere. And if higher ed institutions aren’t restructuring themselves to answer that or to recognize that, they’re going to have a huge hill to climb, a huge hill to climb.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

Yeah. Who’s on your Board of Directors? Who are you inviting back to campus as commencement speakers? Who starts off the year?

Kevin Tyler:

There’s a really great report that came out of the University of Missouri hunger strike incidence a while ago, I think it was a five year look back. And one of the things that was mentioned in that report was that oftentimes when something around race pops up on a campus the immediate response is to set up a task force. And a task force is a process oriented asset, and process is not really always the right response to an emotional situation.

Kevin Tyler:

And so what are the new ways you can create more safe spaces around campus to have conversations that are important to move your campus forward. It might mean the president needs to come and have a town hall and have an honest conversation and be open to feedback about the way the campus is run so that people can get that out. Because when people are sitting in pain and in a problem, it’s hard to see the solution, but once they get that out, you can start to plan for a better future.

Kevin Tyler:

But so often because it’s higher ed, we try to shove a thing into a process, and process can sometimes exacerbate the issue and cause a hotter fire. There’s this book that I love by Brian Stevenson called Just Mercy, and he talks about this idea of being proximate. And I think when it comes to structures in higher ed intentionally or not, there are ways that presidents can build layers between themselves and the issues that exist on campus. And if we condense all of that and get the president proximate with the campus community, more so than usual, then the president can see what’s going on.

Kevin Tyler:

The president, him or herself can see what kinds of new innovations around diversity, equity and inclusion can be spun up to meet new needs. I understand that presidents are super busy, but these are people’s lives. They’re bringing themselves to your campus and they’re under your care. And if they’re not getting what they need, presidents need to know that as soon as possible and not have the offshoot of a task force because it just doesn’t match. It’s like apples and oranges.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

I love that. I love that because the taskforce indicates that it’s a problem that could be solved and then done, and it’s a one and done. And it’s definitely, it’s a journey like Julia Golden said, “It’s a process. It’s both a process and a goal. It’s both a journey and a goal.” And I worked with a director of diversity and inclusion at an institution previously, her name is Leticia Fossil. She’s now at Stonehill College who would hold listening hours. And that’s exactly what they were. They were just listening hours after major campus events, after tension between student groups happened in the community that she knows about.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

These would just be spaces and a time where students can come and air their minds and talk about what is going on and how they feel. And I think that is so often … so often when a conflict happens on campus, we want to immediately resolve the situation and lower the tension and make it go away so that it doesn’t happen again. But a lot of times it doesn’t happen like that. It’s like Kevin said, there’s a lot of emotion at play that you have to help the students work through and its important part of the process.

Kevin Tyler:

I think it’s going to be really important, especially moving forward that institutions have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in society. As institutions of higher learning, I think there’s an expectation that there’s a response to things that affect human hearts, right? And things like Black Lives Matter. And making sure that there’s a statement that goes out, that you stand behind and that you’re supporting with actions and plans to reach the goals that you’ve laid out for yourself are going to be very important, because if you don’t do those things, you are sending a message by not sending a message at all.

Kevin Tyler:

And so a couple of years ago it was a sexual assault and institutions made statements around, we don’t stand for this. And here’s what we have done. Here’s what we put in place to combat some of these issues. Similarly, the conversation now is about Black and other people of color BIPOC individuals. And so making those statements is an indication of where you stand on an issue. And you might lose people for that. You might lose … there could be schools just based on their geography that you’re just like, we don’t do and that’s fine. You will attract the people who you want to by either saying something or not saying something.

Kevin Tyler:

And if it is an expectation I think, to respond as institutions of higher learning to situations like this because it could have implications for donors. It could have implications for students and their families. It could have implications for the surrounding community of your campus. Cities and towns are also stakeholders for your campuses. And if people don’t feel welcome on your campus or see things that might not operate, you might not get their support for whatever you need their support for.

Kevin Tyler:

So understanding what’s happening in the world and making sure that there is a position, is going to be part of the marketing as well. Everything right now is marketing. There’s not one part of higher ed that is not marketing right now because higher ed as an industry is vulnerable and every single institutional brand is vulnerable. So while you’re sitting in meetings trying to figure out what stories to tell for your view book or your year piece, or what stories you’re going to tell in your an alumni magazine, there are other things going on that people are seeing and they’re using to make decisions about the quality of your school, the inclusion that you have at your school, the equity that you have at your school, whether you have planned for it in your marketing calendar or not. So it’s important that you understand that everything is marketing. If you operate as humans first, you should be good.

Heather Dotchel:

All right. Well, that seems like a great place to wrap. Thanks to both of you. One of the things we like to do is we are ending our episodes is to get a little glimpse into your lives beyond higher education. So our question this week, what are your side hustle?

Kevin Tyler:

There is no life beyond higher ed, I’m just kidding.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

No, there’s not.

Kevin Tyler:

So I like to write and I have started a little food blog on the side on Instagram. It is called the Full Belly Blogger, and I just talk about food and books I’ve read and organizations that I love or supporting important parts of the restaurant industry. Shout out to the Giving Kitchen here. And it’s just a thing that I love to do. I’m also studying for my second level, [SAMOEI 00:48:39] test because I love wine and I like to learn about it. And so yeah, that’s my side hustle.

Janice Cheng-McConnell:

So I am working in the United States as a foreigner with a work visa, which means I haven’t been allowed to have any paid side hustles other than my main job until very recently when my status changed. So I’m happy to say that I now write for Vault. I copy edit and do media design by commission. And I also play tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and Call of Cthulhu. The last one there is paid, but that is A, okay.

Heather Dotchel:

Kevin, where do we find you?

Kevin Tyler:

On Twitter, I am Kevinctyler2. Tyler is T-Y-L-E-R. And then I am Kctyler on Instagram, outside of the Full Belly Blogger.

Heather Dotchel:

Well, that’s a wrap. We’re grateful to both of our guests for taking their time to join us today. And we’re looking forward to more great conversations with higher ed thought leaders in the weeks and months to come. If you’d like to explore our topic further, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @hdotchel.