Communicating what your school is doing to promote equity in education isn’t just a good idea. It’s part of an effective enrollment marketing strategy.
Your prospects expect you to give them the tools to succeed, no matter who they are, no matter where they’re from. Equity messaging is about making that promise.
It’s the center tine in a three-pronged fork: DEI, or diversity, equity, and inclusion. Viewed from a marketing perspective, each theme represents a different piece of your communication strategy.
- Diversity is about demonstrating you have different kinds of people on your campus.
- Inclusion is about presenting a variety of perspectives so all voices are heard.
- Equity is about demonstrating how you’re empowering all students to succeed – especially those who have long fallen through the cracks in higher ed.
Communicating your school’s embrace of DEI is no simple task. You’ll quickly shoot yourself in the foot if you present these elements in an imbalanced way. (Think talking about diversity without imagery to back it up. Or claiming you’re inclusive, but everyone looks the same.)
First and foremost, your institution needs to be authentically committed to equity in education. Assuming it is, let’s go over how to effectively express DEI in marketing.
What Does “Equity in Education” Mean?
Before we dive into promoting DEI, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about how we’re defining equity in education, that center prong.
DEI, emphasis on equity, is the language that has eclipsed 20th-century terms like “equality.” (Others might include “multiculturalism” or “affirmative action.”)
Simply put, equality is about providing everyone with the same resources, treating everyone the same regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, income, disability, etc.
Equity is about providing each person with the right resources for them, helping people overcome the barriers they face which are influenced by many factors, including their demographics.
“Equity is what allows individual students to get what they need to be successful … Equity is when a student with a learning disability or who is an English Learner is given additional support to meet challenging learning objectives.” – Dr. Eric Ruiz Bybee, Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University
Basically, diversity is the piece that says your students and faculty represent a variety of demographics, and inclusion demonstrates that you welcome and value them.
Equity is where the rubber meets the road.
It’s the piece that shows your institution is actively building this diverse, inclusive environment. It says you’re invested in promoting access to higher ed for all, and you’re committed to giving all students the tools they need to succeed.
Equity is about more than including diverse students. It’s about empowering them.
Promoting Equity in Education
Here are some strategies you can put in place to promote your school’s DEI efforts, being sure to emphasize equity.
The first and most obvious step you can take to showcase your school’s diversity is to present photography that captures it visually.
You can also communicate diversity through statistics. If the composition of your student body has a high percentage of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) for example, share that stat in your ad copy.
But be very careful with the diversity piece, especially when leveraging photography.
- Make sure it’s authentic and doesn’t embellish the diversity on your campus.
- Favor real students to the greatest extent possible over stock images.
- Whether you’re taking posed or candid shots, capture students in their actual contexts.
Don’t, for example, pull together a bunch of students from all over campus just because they look different and photograph them studying or playing a sport together. Word will quickly get out that you went to great lengths to stage a beautiful, fake, scene of diversity.
It would be a good idea to create a set of best practices to avoid mistakes like this. You might check out Pacific University of Oregon’s set of guidelines for DEI in marketing photography for inspiration.
Beyond imagery to show that your campus is diverse, you also want to showcase student organizations for underrepresented groups.
A few examples include:
- Black, Latinx, Asian (etc.) student unions
- Councils for people with disabilities
- Women in STEM groups
- Similar demographic-based student organizations
Highlighting these groups signals to students from these demographic groups that there’s a place for them on campus.
To be effective at communicating the inclusiveness of your campus, you need to go beyond listing student groups. It’s also important to engage in storytelling that centers on diverse perspectives, especially minority perspectives.
Make sure that the members of these groups are the primary voices for their groups. Students who have long been underrepresented need to be not only featured in videos, newsletter stories, social media, etc., they must also be hands-on in the production process.
Your campaign to demonstrate your institution’s commitment to equity in education is not complete without showcasing efforts to promote access to higher ed and student success.
Depending on the initiatives your school is taking on, this piece could cover a lot of ground:
- Showcasing scholarships and other financial assistance for first-generation college students.
- Highlighting initiatives run by people of color to recruit students of color.
- Storytelling about the impact of support services to help underserved students build careers.
- Showcasing diversity in positions of authority within the faculty and administration.
- Touting any third-party endorsements of your school’s DEI merits, e.g. Colleges of Distinction.
That last one can be especially powerful. It’s hard for your audience to accuse you of being inauthentic if third parties are acknowledging that your institution is serious about equity in education. Show your pride in that accomplishment frequently in marketing communications.
Start trumpeting your school’s commitment to equity in education today.
There are wrong ways to do this that can damage your school’s reputation more than help it. But don’t let that scare you away from this important conversation.
While some schools are farther along than others, virtually all institutions of higher ed are making strides to make education more equitable.
Everyone has an important story to tell when it comes to DEI, including your school.
All we have to do is figure out how to tell your story authentically.
So let’s start that conversation. I look forward to helping you communicate your school’s diversity, inclusiveness, and efforts to help every student succeed.
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