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As the chair of the Inez Kaiser Award committee of the Public Relations Division (PRD) of the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) I was recently asked to help write a grant asking the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Foundation to support a program for diversity and inclusion. My co-writers included Matt Ragas (DePaul University), Sung-Un Yang (Indiana University) and Tricia Farwell (Middle Tennessee State).

I was first introduced to the idea of diversity through Horace Miner’s Body Ritual Among the Nacirema. I had never considered how crazy my own culture must seem to others. It led me to be very curious about diversity and the role acceptance and understanding play in our everyday lives. Throughout my academic career I have been active in supporting diversity initiatives (not to brag or anything, but PRSSA at LSU recently won two awards for their diversity program).

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The field of public relations is especially affected by the lack of minorities in our field.

“The 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics report states that jobs for “public relations specialists are expected to grow 23 percent from 2010-2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of public relations managers is expected to grow 16 percent from 2010-2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations.” This job growth is wonderful news for the future of the profession; however, as noted by recent PRSA initiatives (PRSA, 2013) and industry commentary (Capozzi, 2012a, 2012b), diversity and inclusion remain an issue in public relations.

It is important not only for the public relations industry to reflect the society in which we live, but for the public relations classroom to reflect society as well. A large scale study of public relations educators and professionals by The Commission on Public Relations Education concluded that: “public relations education programs should reflect in their faculty and student composition the racial and ethnic makeup of the society and campus to which they belong” (Turk, 2006, p. 15). Educators with diverse backgrounds and experiences are a vital component of supporting and inspiring future professionals of diverse backgrounds. That is, in order for minority public relations students to see themselves as a talented, dedicated and highly qualified workforce, they must have professors with whom they can identify. Diverse professors may better understand and respect racial, ethnic and gender issues and better motivate such students toward reaching their highest potential (Smith, Turner, Osei-Kofi, & Richards, 2004).

Unfortunately, studies show that, although student populations are becoming more diverse, minorities are less likely to enter the field of teaching (Antonio, 2003; Futrell, 1999; Gordon, 1993). Futrell (1999) suggests that improving recruitment strategies, improving preparation programs and providing mentoring programs could help with this issue. Academia is aware of this pressing issue and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), the largest and oldest alliance of journalism and mass communicators educators at the college level, has a stated goal of encouraging “the implementation of a multi-cultural society in the classroom and curriculum” (AEJMC, 2012).

Specifically within the public relations field, an international Delphi study by Watson (2008) regarding research priorities for public relations identified international and intercultural issues in public relations as one of the top ten research priorities for the future. As evidenced by the submissions to the Public Relations Division (PRD) at the 2013 AEJMC National Conference, it is minorities who are researching these issues. Failure to encourage and support minority research will mean that these important topics will not be fully explored, and greater diversity in the classroom and profession will be stunted.

In an effort to recruit, retain and mentor future public relations educators and researchers, as well as encourage greater diversity in the public relations profession, the AEJMC PRD intends to increase outreach to racial, gender and ethnically diverse graduate students and first year professors to encourage participation in the profession, PRD and PRSA. With nearly 400 members, the PRD is the largest organization of public relations educators in the world. The PRD also liaises with PRSA’s Educators Academy, another vibrant group of educators. All told, there are approximately 3,000 U.S. higher education programs offering degrees in public relations or related coursework (Turk, 2006).” (excerpt taken from the 2013 PRD application for the PRSA Foundation grant).

In a speech to the ICCO Karen van Bergen of Porter Novelli had this to say:

“It is not possible to speak from one cultural perspective and expect to resonate with the global audiences that increasingly determine success or failure for brands and businesses.”“This is why I believe the greatest challenge we now collectively face as an industry is the escalating and intensifying crisis of diversity.” (you can access her complete speech on the PRSSA Foundation homepage).

The grant we wrote echoed van Bergen’s sentiments. Here are a few excerpts:

“Diversity and inclusion are important issues in the public relations field and reflecting our global society is arguably one of the most pressing concerns in public relations education.”

“It is important for minority students to receive the training, mentorship and experiences that will enhance diversity in the classroom and profession. The PRD believes that having minority public relations graduate students recruited, retained and mentored by professors with whom they can identify will increase understanding of racial, ethnic and gender issues as well as encourage and advance a future generation of minority public relations educators and leaders.”

The goals of the revised Inez Kaiser Award are:

1. To increase participation in AEJMC/PRD among minority/emerging minority graduate students through providing funding (i.e., awards and scholarships).

2. Develop a PRD training session at the AEJMC National Conference for minority/emerging minority graduate students that addresses issues these students will face when applying for public relations teaching positions and in the classroom.

3. Develop a PRD training program for minority/emerging minority graduate students that provides networking and mentoring opportunities.

We recently found out the PRSA Foundation awarded the PRD with $5,000 to increase the ability of the Inez Kaiser Award to fund graduate minority student research in public relations. Through the Inez Kaiser award I’m happy to say that I have played just a small part in helping minority students studying public relations progress in their careers. I can’t wait to do more.

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