Less than two weeks after my first day of real-world work, tragedy struck only miles away in Orlando, Florida. Forty-nine people were mercilessly killed, for no reason other than where they were — a gay night club.
Focusing on marketing was the last thing on my mind during the days that followed. This tragedy wasn’t an isolated incident. As the months went on, the media continued to share reports of police brutality, sexual assault cases, campus shootings and terrorist attacks. This tragedy was not an isolated incident.
The term “safe space” rings in the air of many universities across the country. Students abandon their sheltered, privileged, occasionally ignorant hometowns for new beginnings. Many students publicly come out in college, cushioned by the comfort of their peers and community. The college campus becomes home. But are we telling this story to the apprehensive prospective student?
After the Orlando shooting, I wanted to fuel my vehement dismay towards something good. Bystanders who don’t raise their voice when they see injustice occurring are no different than the perpetrator. By doing nothing, we are unwittingly saying nothing needs to be done. As higher education professionals, we know that’s not the case.
Stories — the real, raw, unscripted stories of marginalized, underrepresented students need to soar above the rest. It’s intentional inclusivity.
It isn’t enough to simply state in a buried paragraph on your student affairs website, that you have a LGBTQ service center. It isn’t enough to slap on a photo that represents a seemingly diverse student body on the cover of a viewbook. It’s time as individual institutions that we actively talk about our own culture of acceptance.
Universities everywhere are sharing similar communications content — renovated research facilities, tenured professors, newly developed majors, and Division One updates. But not all share the stories of a first generation student who is self-funding their education, or an international student who plans to return to their native third-world country after graduation and improve it’s health education. Not all universities share the story of a student who resisted their religion’s disapproval of gender expression, or the woman on campus who speaks out against sexism through art.
Marketing is about more than email blasts and click through rates — it’s a responsibility to represent and celebrate the multifaceted identities on campus. We can’t keep neglecting the elephant in the room. Somewhere out there, a prospective student is considering your university. After financial aid is said and done, once a major is declared and admit packets roll in, there’s one thing students will ask themselves before they make their final decision. “Will I belong?”
It’s time to give them the answer they deserve.
This post was originally featured on Higher Ed Live.