Diversity in Departments: Bringing research into marketing communication

by Allison Hagan / Beacon Staff • February 18, 2016

Brenda Wrigley, chair of the Marketing Communication department.
Courtesy of Brenda Wrigley
Brenda Wrigley, chair of the Marketing Communication department.
Courtesy of Brenda Wrigley

Emerson is working toward creating a more inclusive environment, and each department has set goals to improve their curricula. Each week, the Beacon will feature the plans for an academic department. Previous installments include writing, literature, and publishing, visual and media arts, and journalism.

The marketing communication department’s two main goals for this academic year are improving diversity and fostering a sense of a community within the program, according to Brenda Wrigley, chair.

Wrigley said she was initially surprised by the lack of awareness some faculty showed on issues of diversity.

“We should all be moved to act, outrage can be expressed not so much in loud voices, but in action,” Wrigley said. “I’ve really tried to move the department along to understand that we really have to pay attention to this issue.”

Wrigley said the department can achieve these goals by revising the curriculum and encouraging students to pay attention to cultural context in their projects. She said this will better prepare them for the realities of the marketing field.

“People in marketing are one of several groups that represent an organization,” Wrigley said. “If there’s not an understanding of the context which you’re presenting messages, it’s very easy to make mistakes and cause reputational damage to an organization.”

Jake DiTore, a freshman marketing communication major, said students need to know about diversity to have a broad understanding of business and to be able to target any audience. Incorporating a wide range of cultural contexts into the curriculum will teach students to be more innovative, DiTore said.

“Being able to come up with new ideas and target different groups is something marketers should know,” DiTore said.

Anthony Lowrie, associate chair and associate professor, leads the curriculum revision. Lowrie said a committee of faculty members is working to change the learning objectives for each course, so students “take away” better information on race, gender, and social class issues. These objectives lay out what each student should achieve in a course. The committee aims to include aspects of many cultures and diversity in each one, he said.

“You can find out how [students are] engaged with culture and diversity by how that shows up in their work.” Lowrie said, “We sit in each other's classrooms and take note of that to see what’s going on in terms of diversity.”

The faculty have also been working on a website specifically for marketing communication majors, according to Lowrie. The site comes from an effort for the department to be more transparent, so students can clearly see what their major has to offer, especially cultural aspects, Lowrie said. This includes examining a variety of demographics and how they purchase in different societies.

“In a global brand strategy class, learning goals that specify diversity within the curriculum will be then fed into the course,” Lowrie said. “Whether it’s me or anyone else teaching, we have to make sure those aspects of those goals occur in that course.”

The department is looking to bring in outside research on diversity to the classroom. Wrigley and Roxana Maiorescu, an associate professor, recently signed a contract to write a book on inclusivity at multinational corporations to be used in courses. The book will have an analysis of marketing companies’ representations of diversity and interviews with professionals about how they enact and enforce policies.

“For better or for worse, many companies make grave mistakes in this area,” Wrigley said. “So we have loads of case examples to show people what to do and what not to do as professional communicators.”

Wrigley said diversity in their education will help students develop good character and figure out what values drive their lives.

“We have the ability to have an impact on young people’s values, those are so much more important than anything else we can teach them,” she said. “If people leave Emerson with really good values, we will have done our job.”