GVPRSSA Wins Top National PRSSA Chapter Award for Diversity, Inclusion, & Equity Efforts

At the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) International Conference in October, the Grand Valley Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (GVPRSSA) won the Dr. F.H. Teahan Award for Chapter Diversity, recognizing outstanding commitment to diversity within the PRSSA Chapter. 

The definition of diversity is broad. PRSSA embraces all individuals, regardless of background, culture, education, major, age, disability, gender, and sexual orientation. PRSSA recognizes the importance of different experiences, perspectives, and voices in making a viable Society that aids the profession. Initiatives like the Dr. F.H. Teahan Chapter Diversity Award encourages Chapters to seek diversity among its leaders and members through programming and other chapter activities.

GVPRSSA won the award for its commitment to supporting diverse communities. This includes race and gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status, and ability. In 2017-2018 President Bri Olson kicked off a diversity, equity, and inclusion Chapter initiative that began with primary research about chapter members and culminated with a Teach-In program with adviser Dr. Adrienne Wallace and student member Trevor Bryan, called Intentional Inclusion: How to Improve Your Student Organization’s Efforts for Inclusion in an effort to use intentional and strategic efforts to improve membership and forge partnerships with other organizations to improve member diversity, inclusion, and equity experiences. 

Since those initial efforts, GVPRSSA leadership has built on and annually reviewed their effort to improve membership outcomes in all areas of diversity where GVPRSSA may fall short and partners with external organizations to offer a more robust experience to and for members. In the 2019-2020 school year, the GVPRSSA chapter and student-run firm, GrandPR, lobbied to win host-duties for CreateAthon, a national nonprofit that coordinates marathon-style campaign events for national firms, and won partnership status. They then took steps to support nonprofit organizations with marginalized populations with free integrated communications campaigns, as well as organized fundraisers and volunteer opportunities for the membership. 

During last year’s CreateAthon, their clients were Grand Rapids Trans Foundation, Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan, Be A Rose, Arbor Circle, Hope Lodge, and Camp Casey. Additionally, they partnered with diverse organizations on campus, like the Asian Student Union

GVPRSSA also attends and promotes diversity and equity workshops on campus while partnering with local organizations like HQ Runaway and Homeless Youth Drop-in Center, Kids’ Food Basket, and the Ronald McDonald House. For the second year in a row, GVPRSSA committed to an ongoing partnership and fundraiser for Be A Rose, a local nonprofit that works to provide feminine hygiene products to women in need.

“The field of public relations is predominantly white and predominantly female, just like our university. It would be unfair and unjust to continue nurturing the status quo,” said Dr. Adrienne Wallace, Assistant Professor Advertising and Public Relations, GVPRSSA Adviser. “To improve representation in the United States PR industry, we need to make changes at the student-level to equip and improve student professional outcomes related to inclusion and equity. If we continue this trajectory, the pay and equity gaps will continue to widen to the detriment of our profession. Not to mention, we are all better when diversity and inclusion efforts are embraced. I’m not only talking about this idea of “checking the box” but rather really understanding and celebrating what each other has to bring to the table. Anything less than this is unacceptable. We have a long way to go in our student group – but results don’t come overnight. I’m proud of this group for being self-aware and recognizing our shortcomings, to right those wrongs.” 

Recruiting a diverse membership is always at the front of mind with GVPRSSA leadership. Following the Black Lives Matter social justice events of this past summer, the chapter committed to an initiative to ensure that their programming was 100 percent representative of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Additionally, they have secured virtual agency tours that feature BIPOC-led agencies. From this commitment, Vice President of Programming Samantha Stoddard and faculty adviser Dr. Adrienne Wallace created the Pacesetter Award-winning national initiative called PRSSA REIMAGINED. This programming collaborative in partnership with seven other PRSSA Chapters (Kennesaw State University, American University, West Texas A&M University, University of Memphis, University of Arizona, Samford University, and Fresno State University) ensures that national programming focused on inclusion is available to all PRSSA chapters during the COVID era where securing speakers virtually can benefit many chapters at the same time. Each program has netted around 100 students and faculty advisers from various PRSSA chapters across the United States.  

Caption: PRSSA REIMAGINED: Kennesaw State hosts a panel on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (above). Guests and Facebook event image (below).

GVPRSSA accomplished other items, such as taking on the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) of Grand Rapids as a pro-bono client of GrandPR. They are also the Firm of Record for the 5th Anniversary of the National Millennial Gen Z group and have consistently continued their efforts to partner with ethnically diverse organizations on campus like the Latino and Asian Student Unions.

“As a chapter, we know that we have more to work on and room to grow in terms of diversity, and we’re not stopping our efforts as a result of winning an award,” Allison Canter, GVPRSSA President. “We are looking to instate a Diversity and Inclusion chair onto our PRSSA Eboard next semester and are currently improving our Chapter Diversity Initiative as we put concrete measures into place. We feel it is essential to do the work first.”

The GVPRSSA plans to continue its 100 percent BIPOC programming and agency initiative in the future and will continue to assure the success, comfort, and safety of diverse communities on our campus and in their community. 

The PRSSA chapter at Grand Valley is a national award-winning chapter that aims to move the needle each and every year. Some of their recent accomplishments include:

  • PRSSA National Star Chapter Award (2012-2020)
  • PRSSA National Pacesetter Award (2020)
  • PRSSA National Two Gold Key Award Winners (Emily Gagnon, Delaney MacKenzie – 2020)
  • PRSSA National Adviser of the Year Award to chapter faculty adviser, Dr. Adrienne Wallace (2019)
  • PRSSA Teahan Award National PRSA/PRSSA Relationship of the Year (2019)
  • PRSSA Teahan Award National University Service of the Year (2019)
  • WMPRSA (2019) PRoof Gold Award for “Events and Observances longer than 7 days” GrandPR’s “Sawyer’s Day” campaign.
  • WMPRSA (2019) Gold Award for “Events and Observances longer than 7 days” from GrandPR’s “Timeless Ten” campaign.
  • WMPRSA (2019) PRoof Professional of the Year Award to chapter faculty adviser, Dr. Adrienne Wallace 
  • WMPRSA (2019) PRoof Gold Award for “Podcast Tactic” for the PR Hangover Podcast  
  • WMPRSA (2019) PRoof “Student of the Year” Trevor Bryant
  • WMPRSA PRoof (2019) “Newcomer of the Year” Sean Billisitz (2019 GVPRSSA alum)
  • PRSSA National Pacesetter Award (2018)
  • GVSU Student Life Outstanding Adviser of the Year, Dr. Adrienne Wallace (PRSSA/GrandPR – 2018)
  • PRSSA National Bateman Case Study Competition Honorable Mention (2017)
  • PRSSA National Gold Key Award Winners (Daltyn Little – 2017)
  • PRSSA National Two-Time Pacesetter Award (2017)
  • Top-10 PR Podcast for PR Hangover (2017)
  • PRSSA National Regional Conference Host (2017)
  • PRSSA National “Best Campaign” Award GrandPR (2016)
  • GVSU Student Life Outstanding Adviser of the Year, Dr. Adrienne Wallace (PRSSA/GrandPR – 2016)
  • PRSSA National – Michigan Leadership Conference Host (2015)