Students Advocate for Causes Close to Home and Across the Globe in Spring 2021 Courses
From mental health on college campuses to forced child labor, students in the School of Communication Studies worked on campaigns across a range of topics during the Spring 2021 semester.
Students learned that communication — the spoken word, social media, website content, news — is a powerful tool in advocating for causes, all while learning communication theory, fundamentals and tools.
In Communication in a Global Society, taught by Stephanie Danes Smith, students were challenged to develop a social media campaign to help their peers understand a specific human rights issue. In Communication Campaigns, taught by J.D. Ponder, Ph.D., students worked with a client to research and prepare a comprehensive strategic communication campaign.
Through these courses and others across the curriculum and across the College of Communication and Information, students had a chance to dig into issues they are passionate about and advocate for change and awareness.
Recent Kent State graduate Max Warner’s interest in global communication stems from a study abroad trip to China in 2018. Since then, he’s traveled to 16 countries and taken a strong interest in global issues and interactions. In Communication in a Global Society, he used what he has learned, and drew from what he is passionate about, to advocate for change in American consumer habits.
Associate Professor Stephanie Danes Smith assigned students to work in teams to develop a social media challenge that would draw attention to a global human rights issue. Warner’s team zeroed in on forced labor practices used by popular chocolate brands (including Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars) in Africa, using the tagline #DirtyChocolate. Team members included communication studies majors Jacob Baszynski, '24; Wesley Boka, '21; Allison Dunn, '21; Matthew Mergen, '23; Elianette Nelson, '21; and business major Sam Wagner, '22.
A key learning outcome, according to Smith, was for the students to understand how easy or difficult it is to get others to take simple actions that benefit others but are of no direct benefit to themselves. To that end, Warner’s team created a social media campaign, centered around the Instagram account @endirtychocolate, encouraging others to boycott these popular chocolate brands for a week because of the unethical labor practices they use.
“To hear that a Kent State Dean took such interest in our campaign and took action actually left me speechless,” Warner said. “It made me feel as if I actually made a difference, made a change, brought light on an issue that is not talked about in the media.”
The campaign forced him to reflect upon how people use social media to draw attention to issues — that there’s a difference between joining a viral trend and actually taking action.
“This class really helped me become familiar with this concept and (prompted me) to look further than mainstream media,” he said. “There are things happening all around the world that no one knows about, and as a global communicator, it is my job to bring light to these issues and enact real change.”
Warner said he hopes to incorporate global communication into whatever comes next after graduation.
“Globally speaking we’re a lot more similar than we are different,” Warner said. “... I plan to incorporate global communication into what I do ... by continuing to travel and refusing to just look at things at face value. The world is not as black and white as we make it out to be, and we each have the power to change the world.”
The challenges of going to college during a pandemic amplified already-widespread mental health struggles among young adults. Senior Communication Studies major Kaylyn Lloyd drew attention to this issue through her work with the Kent State Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse within the College of Public Health.
“Mental Health is just as important as physical health,” Lloyd said. “I noticed, especially this year, that many students were struggling with mental health. ... Sometimes it can be easy to forget that your mind is as important to take care as the rest of your body.”
Lloyd had already been hired as a communications intern with the Kent State division when her Communication Campaigns professor, Dr. Ponder (assistant professor), assigned students to work on a comprehensive campaign to promote mental health around campus. Team members included communication studies majors Madison Greene, '21 and Alexandra Matta, '21, and journalism major William Kosco, '24.
“Since both the Division and the class campaign are working toward the same goal, promoting mental health and mental health resources/events on campus, I got the ‘go-ahead’ to merge together everything I was working on into one big project promoting mental health,” Lloyd said.
- provide valuable and shareable mental health resources
- generate and normalize mental health conversations
- promote mental health tips and resources
Everything they created evoked a consistent color scheme and design elements, focusing on infographics and digestible bits of information, to foster engagement and prompt their audience connect ideas about mental health together.
Lloyd also led the Division in striking a balance in the content they shared — a mix of posts about events and trainings and “value” posts that create discussions about mental health.
“I created a series of other posts for a mini campaign called ‘Take Time for Your Mind,’” Lloyd said. “These simple posts served as reminders for the audience to take a break, find joy in the little things, destress and take care of their mental health in any way that works for them. These positive posts have been received very well, thus increasing mental health awareness!”
These are just two examples of students in the School of Communication Studies who were able to build campaigns around issues they are passionate about. By gaining experience working on real causes and with real clients in the classroom, students are well-prepared to step into jobs and internships in advocacy: from solutions journalism to fundraising; from lobbying to non-profit communications; and so much more.