Kent State Students Create Campaign Tying 'Stay-at-Home' Order to Climate Justice
When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a statewide “stay-at-home” order at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a group of Kent State University students immediately recognized an issue that almost nobody else was talking about:
Not all homes are healthy homes.
The students were enrolled in the College of Communication and Information course Media and Movements and in the process of creating an advocacy campaign centered on climate justice, a term that refers to the disparities in how climate change is affecting already-marginalized communities. This team was tasked with raising awareness about Environmental Health Watch’s tool, housing.health, an online service that educates Cleveland residents about the health of their homes, weighing risks such as lead paint, pests, safety, cleanliness and more. Environmental Health Watch, Northeast Ohio's longest standing environmental justice organization, served as the class's client for the semester.
With several weeks of class and plenty of primary research under their belts, the team understood that due to lead, mold and other environmental dangers, many Cleveland residents did not have safe places to stay even as residents were being encouraged to stay home to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
So the team shifted its campaign to reflect the current reality for residents; it became all the more urgent for them to create a campaign that encouraged their target audience to assess the health of their homes.
“That new reality changed the focus of our entire campaign, transforming it from a simple marketing challenge ... to a challenge that was even more urgent and important,” said team member and communication studies major Ana Lowe, a 2020 alumna. “Our new goal came to be helping Clevelanders understand the connection between housing health and physical health, and this pandemic provided an unprecedented opportunity for doing so.”
They created a public service announcement, which combined Governor DeWine’s plea for Ohioans to stay at home, with this message: “But what if your house makes you sick? Not all of us can stay in healthy homes and unhealthy homes increase our risks during public health crises. Learn more about the health of your house at housing.health.”
“The message of the campaign is that not everybody has a safe home,” said team member and public relations major Celetre Jones. “For some people, that’s homelessness; for some people, if they stay home, they get beaten; for some people, they might pick up the needle and use it.”
The Media and Movements course, taught by Associate Professor Stephanie Smith, examines a different social justice issue each year and partners with an area nonprofit to serve as the class’s client. Students work together in teams to create advocacy campaigns, using communication, media, design, technology and information skills.
Team member Anna Katsas, a digital media production major and 2020 alumna, said the class helped her recognize the many climate injustices that exist in the world, and that she is capable of sparking positive change through the skills she learned in her major.
“To me, media advocacy means bringing awareness to a problem in a powerful way that makes people really listen, think, and hopefully act,” Katsas said. “It may make people feel uncomfortable, but that may be a good thing because it shows that the current way things are being handled is not okay and needs to change.”
Her team members Jones and Lowe also found the class fulfilling during a time of uncertainty. Jones said the class made her realize that after graduation, she wants to use her public relations skills to help people. For Lowe, it helped her feel productive during quarantine.
“Focusing on helping others definitely helped me shift my focus off myself and on to productive things I could do to hopefully help others,” she said. “This project was very challenging before quarantine, due to the gravity and importance of the work, and once quarantine began it seemed almost impossible. I’m very proud of my team, we refocused ourselves, dedicated countless hours to work and pulled through.”