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The Enormity of Inclusion: The Importance of Authenticity over Aspiration

Personal experience shapes perception. Every prospective student views colleges through the prism of their personal experiences and identities, underscoring the need for genuine portrayal of campus diversity.

Understanding the College Search Through Social Identity: The journey of choosing a college is deeply influenced by one’s unique social identities, whether it’s conscious or not. Students look for familiarity, but also want an honest depiction of the campus. 

Expectation versus Reality/ Authenticity Over Aspiration

Images might paint a thousand words, but they must be rooted in truth.

As I researched colleges, I was looking at more than just the academic offerings, even though that was really important to me. My racial identity and socioeconomic status were front of mind throughout the process, as well. I scoured viewbooks looking for color among the students and faculty.  There was a college that was high on my list initially because of what I perceived to be a racially diverse community, but when I visited the campus, it took a half hour of walking around for me to finally see another Black student. I quickly struck that school off my list.

Beyond the Pictures: Unveiling the True College Experience

Reframe existing narratives about urban blight and the inhabitants of those communities.

Many brochures depict community involvement and portray a top-down relationship between the institution and its local neighborhood. Students at the university are often depicted as helpers in the adjacent community instead of being beneficiaries of the local barbershop, the bodega, or the authentic ethnic eatery around the corner. In hindsight, it seems clear to me that I wasn’t the audience they were intending to sway. If the goal is to appeal to a broad audience, then Institutions should ensure that these aspects aren’t sidelined since they deeply resonate with students seeking familiarity. It also sets the stage for all students to see value in the surrounding neighborhood, beyond the opportunities to partake in community service. 

Inclusivity in Language: Making Words Count

We should speak a language that everyone understands.

I recall seeing the phrase “rigorous Liberal Arts curriculum”and wondering what it meant. The language felt alienating. Such phrases, especially to those like me, for whom English is a second language, can be unclear and daunting. Institutions should aim for clarity in language so that the content in their brochures are broadly digestible. Think of it like ‘curb cuts’ on sidewalks—originally designed for wheelchairs but beneficial for strollers, cyclists, and all.

The Art of Crafting Inclusive Promotions

Engendering an initial sense of belonging goes beyond depicting a racial oasis on campus. To make promotional content resonate, institutions should consider:

  • Celebrating genuine ties with the local community.
  • Incorporating relatable, clear language showcasing both the campus and its surrounding milieu.
  • Bringing varied voices into the content creation process, ensuring broad perspectives and genuine representation.

In conclusion, while the task of creating a truly inclusive brochure, or web experience, is undeniably challenging, it’s necessary. When institutions embrace diverse perspectives in the creation of their narrative, they forge deeper connections with a broader spectrum of potential students.

To summarize the enormity of inclusion in the college search process:

  1. Personal Experience Shapes Perception: A prospective student’s background and identity deeply influence their college selection, necessitating genuine portrayal of campus inclusivity.
  2. Intention in Messaging Matters: Depicting diversity requires thought beyond visuals; direct, accessible language and varied perspectives ensure resonant and genuine communication.
  3. Authenticity Over Aspiration: Genuine representation is paramount; mismatches between promotional images and campus reality can alienate potential students.



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