Talking Shop: Change, Authenticity, Inclusion
The social media ambassador program at Wheaton College is made up of three student workers who work alongside the marketing and communications staff to create short-form video content and photography to tell the college’s story on social media platforms.
In the past two years, the Massachusetts, U.S., college evaluated the program to better align it with institutional diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging goals, and generated change throughout the college. Anice Rodrigues Barbosa’s team created systemic practices that continue to generate growth within the program and division.
What inspired the decision to revamp the social media ambassador program to better align with institutional DEIB goals?
In light of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, the DEIB discussion came to a head at Wheaton, as it did for many institutions. Wheaton has a long history of doing DEIB work; even prior to 2020, we already had a structure within the college called DEAL (Diversity, Equity, and Access Leadership), and within that work we were looking at how we could entrench DEIB into our systemic functions. There were lots of conversations about the content that we create for social media.
In 2020, we received a piece of feedback that our ambassadors were not reflective of the student population. This came from somebody who had previously applied for the position and didn’t get it, and I had a fragility response: “But I gave you the opportunity; you interviewed, and you just didn’t pan out to be the best candidate.” I wrestled a lot with that and evaluated the work that we were doing.
I started soliciting feedback and asking about barriers previous applicants saw to entry. As part of our application process, we required a work sample of a video or photos from a high school experience, and it turned out that the students who went to schools with more resources had better materials. It was that light bulb moment for us. We changed the application process and made our equipment available to applicants.
We post our open positions publicly but [in the past] we would rely heavily on referrals from the admissions office's ambassador pool. I had created this tiny circle of “who knows who.” We didn’t get rid of the referral program completely, but we did expand the sources of referrals to faculty, staff, and even students themselves. It made for a richer pool of candidates and better relationships with faculty, and we created our own referral list that we can share.
What impact did you see from those changes for the student ambassadors and for Wheaton as a whole?
We determined that our pay was not equitable for the level of work for our student ambassador positions, so we reclassified the position to get it compensated the way it should be. In general, we were able to successfully advocate for an increase in the cap on earnings for student workers at Wheaton and that was a net positive for all students.
Internally, the conversation around examining our hiring practices has sparked up across other departments and DEAL asked me to present the work that we did and the results that we saw. As a community it opened a conversation with our peers about what it is that we’re doing when it comes to DEIB.
What do you hope students learn from their experiences working on digital marketing and in the student ambassador program?
More than anything that their voice matters and that the work that they do has an impact. I tell them, 'This is fun work, but it's important work.' They are the faces of the institution in a lot of ways. We talk about the reach that our accounts have and understanding that social media is such a powerful tool for change. And that what we hope is a fun environment for them is also a truly critical, important place to have all sorts of conversations.
What’s a challenge that you see to keeping DEIB goals central to social media and student work? How have you addressed that?
Balancing the intersection of institutional needs while keeping student voices central to the content creation process is a challenge. [That entails] navigating student boundaries and what a student might or might not be comfortable speaking on, or even what aligns with their values and what Wheaton wants to talk about. That can be tricky.
Making sure our students feel supported and that they’re not being put in a position to be inauthentic is always our top priority. These are challenges that you have to navigate as a manager, but I feel when it comes to student work it’s even more important that we go in mindfully.
It took a lot of vulnerability on my end to raise my hand to do this work, because who wants their work out there to be criticized by their peers, by the institution, by the world? But that comes with the territory of taking on DEIB work and going up against centuries-old frameworks that need to be challenged. But knowing that you don’t have to go at it alone and leveraging your institutional network for advocacy is important as a manager.
What’s your best tip for managing a digital marketing team as it relates to DEIB?
Commit year over year to growing within the scope of the DEIB work that you do. One of the things that our team does to recommit ourselves every year to DEIB is as we set goals, we identify areas where we can expand our capacity. For example, our web developer is learning ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) for accessibility of digital content and our content producer is looking at the reading level of our content on the website.
I also try to set a good example by having goals for myself to continue to expand my capacity and understanding. I make it clear this is ongoing work. It's not something that you did to cross off your to-do list.
What advice would you pass along to fellow digital marketers?
When you’re working with students, create room for them to tell you how they see their stories or their perspectives fitting in to institutional messages—it’s not just providing a script for them to read. Creating avenues for their input, whether it’s through a meeting where you gauge the campus pulse or whether it's checking in during an assignment, the back and forth is so incredibly important.
Authenticity means listening to other folks’ perspectives and folding that into the messages we need to tell across higher education. New students want to see authentic expressions of campus life and work that is reflective of institutional values and our student body.
What’s something you’re proud of creating as a team at Wheaton?
This is the first digital marketing team Wheaton has ever had—it’s one year old. I am incredibly proud of the work that we have done so far. We are from all these different perspectives—social media, web development, content writing, digital marketing—and I’m proud of the way that we have come together to tell Wheaton’s story.
I have super happy employees who are engaging all the behaviors that you want to see, not just within their work but within the life of the college. It’s rewarding to see that they are responsible for creating a culture of belonging within our team and our division. That is my proudest piece of work; as a new manager, it feels like the best thing that I have done all year.
About the author(s)
Hannah Ratzer is Editorial Specialist at CASE.
Article appears in:
March - April 2023
DIGITAL ONLY ISSUE - Measures of Success: Five teams share stories of data in action. Plus a spotlight on sustainability: fundraising for climate initiatives, digital sustainability, and storytelling about climate change.