Diversity in Storytelling | Marketing Practices

Pacific University is full of unique and varied stories that can inspire prospective students and alumni. You can better illustrate your program and the university by allowing more voices to be heard.

Storytelling includes written stories, as well as video or audio documentary and student testimonials.

DOs & DON’Ts | if nothing else, follow these guidelines

  • DO tell a variety of stories.
  • DON’T misrepresent individuals.
  • DO secure student consent.

Student Consent

When representing any student in media, secure the student’s consent before telling their story or using their likeness.

CONNECTION | For more information, see Student Consent.

Tell Diverse Stories

Diversity in storytelling is about maximizing the available points of view. As a practice, this produces more unique stories and reveals both failures and successes that otherwise would have been missed. For example, if your program better prepares women for physics careers than peer institutions, you would never know unless you seek women’s stories.

The voices that are missing will vary with each program. If you need a place to start, consider historically underrepresented groups, including women, people of color and LGBTQ+ folks.

NOTE | This does not only mean adding in the stories, for example, of Latinx students. It is about representation at all levels, including part-time students, distance learners, students starting second careers and other groups that often do not have their stories told.

Goals of Telling Diverse Stories

Storytelling achieves three goals: promotion, description and retention. To achieve the latter two goals, you should take care that your storytelling efforts include a variety of perspectives on your program.

  1. Diverse stories explain your program more fully.
    Presenting only faculty perspectives, for example, may miss details relevant to students, like how much the course costs. Presenting only traditional student perspectives may miss that your online program is perfect for caregivers with young children.
  2. Diverse stories demonstrate to students that the community cares.
    Providing a platform for students to share their narratives shows that your program values their experience and perspective. Showing students that they are seen can improve retention.

Represent Non-visible Diversity

Invisible disabilities are conditions that affect functioning but are not readily perceived by appearance alone. For example, depression, chronic pain or insomnia.

It is important to tell the stories of students who have invisible disabilities. At best, these students are overlooked because their conditions are not visual. At worst, they are challenged to verify their status.

NOTE | It is worth noting that, as with all disability, these conditions are relevant parts of students’ lives. They are not embarrassing or shameful. They should not be treated as such, nor as a topic to be avoided to “protect” the student. Furthermore, it is generally in bad taste to frame a disability as a challenge conquered.

Accompanying Photography

Be sensitive with accompanying photography. Unless your story is about the subject’s disability, you should not visually emphasize it. On the other hand, unless at the subject’s explicit request, you should make no effort to hide a visual disability.

Failures in Telling Diverse Stories

There are a number of common errors that occur when telling stories about historically underrepresented groups. Try to avoid the following

  • Avoid exoticization by understanding historical context.
    Exoticization is when something foreign to yourself (food, clothing, traditions) is depicted as romantic, trendy, alien or strange. For example, dressing Asian models in kimonos; glamorizing low-income areas (i.e., “slums”); or national news coverage of a celebrity’s conversion to Islam. Understanding context can prevent exoticization. For example, understanding the traditional role of a kimono in Japanese society.
  • Avoid improper words by understanding common usage or reflecting your subject’s language.
    To review the university’s editorial style, see “Words That Work” at pacificu.edu/MarCom. This topic is explored further in Using Inclusive Language.
  • Avoid conflating subjects’ identities.
    For example, when telling a student’s academic achievement story, it may not be relevant to talk about their religious beliefs. This is not to say students’ identities are unimportant to their personal narrative. However, carelessly including identity can promote stereotypes. For example, identity is frequently referenced in stories that include crime, poverty or immigration.
  • Avoid depicting one person as a representative for a group.
    Acknowledge the unique experiences of your story’s subject. Refrain from suggesting that the subject has a “typical” experience. Never use a person as a tool to introduce your audience to a culture.