By Channing Gatewood

This August, the Public Relations Society of America led a month-long “Diversity Month,” during which many of PRSA’s national leaders shared insights, articles, and experiences pertaining to diversity and inclusion in their professional environments. As an African American woman (a double-whammy of a minority), I have always read articles or social media commentary about the push for professional development and inclusion for minorities at work. However, my engagement with PRSA’s Diversity Month exposed me to even more insight, as I not only read articles, but I watched discussions unfold in real time through multiple Twitter discussions. These conversations included veteran communications professionals, young adults, and even college students. I left both discussions with notes, ideas, and new perspectives on what D&I means to a workplace professional.

I see the essence of diversity, especially in a college setting, as embracing, discussing, and most importantly respecting the wide variety of identities, beliefs, backgrounds, and values of our peers. PRSA’s Twitter discussions helped me to realize the role of Diversity and Inclusion beyond college– in the real world and workplace. How can CEOs use their power to promote, and in some cases, require diversity training? What about the hiring process and its fairness to all applicants? Is there value in mentorship, and when should it begin to see the best results for both parties? Hearing the importance of an inclusive attitude for post-grad work, I realized that as PRSSA members, we should be preparing ourselves now for the diverse society that we soon hope to work with, communicate to, and learn from.

I am a new PRSSA executive board member this year, and to be honest, it was daunting to take on that challenge. As excited as I was to represent a club that I have enjoyed for a year, I was also hesitant to step into the D&I director position. What does that mean? How should I define diversity? How can I work on inclusiveness without awkwardly calling out members? When I think about my own experience with D&I in PRSSA, I realize how an organization that I originally joined because of what we would have in common, I grew to love because of the differences between its members. One moment I was getting to know a PR senior who was interested in health communications, and the next I was talking to a freshman international student who was still figuring out her major, but wanted to learn. This made me realize that no organization is interesting and complete if not for the diversity of its members. Yes, everyone is interested in Public Relations in some form, but not everyone is a PR major, not everyone is my age or gender, and not everyone shares my background.

I hope that this year, I can use my position to advocate for our members, placing value on our members’ opinions, wants, and needs, and allowing all members to learn from the variety of speakers, discussions, and events that we hold. It will be a learning process for me as well, but it should be– Each of our members, particularly new members, will bring a perspective that I have not seen to our chapter this year. It is our responsibility, as leaders of a diverse group of students, to not only learn from the professional speakers we invite to campus, but from our members, who are naturally professionals to their own experiences and interests. If we emphasize learning from each other together, I have no doubt we will grow even stronger in the process.