What you need to know about HBCUs: Empowering PR professionals in Tampa Bay

By Gina Spinosa, University of Tampa Chapter of PRSSA

PRSA recently hosted a webinar titled “What You Need to Know about HBCUs: A Reservoir of Public Relations Talent and Desire” as part of its Diverse Dialogues series. The webinar shared different viewpoints about the experiences of students of color at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and how the public relations profession can encourage them. HBCUs are focused on providing a rich education to all students, especially those of color, in a nurturing environment. Many of these schools have programs dedicated to public relations and related majors.

This webinar was moderated by Shanita Akintonde, a professor in The School of Media Arts at Columbia College Chicago. The panelists, representing three HBCUs, included: Dr. Tia C. M. Tyree, Professor and Interim Associate Dean of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications at Howard University; B. DàVida Plummer, Assistant VP for Marketing and Media at Hampton University and Dean at Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications; and Ranata Hughes, Visiting Professor and Internship Coordinator at the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication at Florida A&M University, one of four HBCUs in Florida.

These four women of color discussed the importance of preparing for the next generation of students of color in the public relations field and why diversity and inclusion needs to be prioritized in the industry. Some key takeaways include:

  1. Forget what you know about HBCUs: Tyree said most people think HBCUs are just schools for inner city African Americans, but this is far from the truth. These students hail from all around the world and are on the same level of education and success as those from predominantly white institutions (PWIs). She said HBCUs are institutions where everyone is welcomed and blackness is celebrated in a safe way while challenging their students to be the best in what they do.
  2. Dealing with the pandemic: African American and other students of colors are being affected by COVID-19 in disproportionate ways. Professors and mentors should show grace and understanding while training and reminding their students of the resilience they hold as HBCU members.
  3. Evolving PR courses and tools: As the public relations world continues to evolve, HBCUs will need to use different tools and courses to advance the education of their students. Panelists explained how they train their students in courses from data analytics to journalism in order to give them a wider understanding of the industry.
  4. Getting students involved early: Students must dive into the PR industry even before they graduate. The panelists explained how they teach their students that they must be prepared and how they must be excellence driven to break down barriers. They encourage their students to get internships, join clubs, and do research outside of the classroom about their future profession.
  5. How the industry is changing: In the past few years, we’ve seen greater engagement between industry and HBCU students. This is an important trend which needs to continue in the future, so students can reach their potential and continue to make an impact on the PR profession.

So, what do you do if you are not one of the four HBCUs in Florida, which is the case for the colleges in the Tampa Bay area? As a student at the University of Tampa, which is considered a PWI, I believe our local universities can apply some of these same lessons for supporting students of color. This webinar opened my eyes to the different ways we as a community can provide a different kind of support. We can:

  • Reach out to students while actively empowering them through school and forward into their careers
  • Provide more education about people of color who have made a major impact in the PR industry to motivate them and pave the way for years to come
  • Mentor and advise students just like they do at HBCUs and support them as future public relations professionals. PRSA offers a Mentor Connect program. Mentors and students can learn more here.

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