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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

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Kaye Sweetser Kaye Sweetser

Professor Named Outstanding Educator of the Year for Diversity Efforts

Kaye Sweetser has been recognized for her efforts to diversify the public relations industry.
By Lainie Fraser

“Dr. Sweetser's contribution to our campus has been profound. We are all enormously grateful for her leadership and her commitment to her work.”

Moved by the murder of George Floyd and the summer of protests that followed, Kaye Sweetser began actively seeking ways to change the demographics of the public relations (PR) industry through her courses at San Diego State University and her work as the director of the Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development and Public Relations at the university.

“One of the biggest problems in PR is that for decades the industry has been overwhelmingly white,” Sweetser said. “When it comes to being able to effectively communicate to our varied target publics that is a problem. We need more diversity. We have to understand other people’s points of view and be able to communicate to our public to build relationships with them. That takes a diverse team.”

Over the last year, Sweetser has worked to help make that change in her industry through webinars, guest speakers and assignments.

“I have overhauled my coursework in an effort to make a difference in the lives, careers and mentoring of students of color,” Sweetser said. “For too long so-called allies have taken up space. A true ally isn't on the sidelines. A true ally joins the fight. We need to create space to usher in a new face of PR.”

Her work at SDSU was recognized by PRNEWS, the premier trade publication for the public relations industry. PRNEWS has named Sweetser the Outstanding Educator of the Year. This award is centered on diversity equity and inclusion and is a part of the CSR and Diversity Awards PRNEWS awards annually.

“This award is not the end of the story, this award really marks the end of a very exciting chapter one,” Sweetser said. “This really shows that the things that we’re doing are making a difference and being noticed and so if we can spend even more energy, time and resources on projects like this imagine what more we can do.” 

Sweetser aims to use her power and platform to channel resources and help course correct diversity in public relations.

“Increasing diversity in PR is about so much more than hiring a practitioner of color. You have to take a wide-angle view of all of the barriers," Sweetser said. "What are we doing to expose students of color to career opportunities in the media industry? When they get to college and they take our introductory course as an elective, what stories do we highlight in our lectures and with our guest speakers? We have to be deliberate about showing media-interested students that they have a path and can be successful in our career fields.”

Sweetser says because students of color aren’t seeing people who look like them in the industry they lose out on mentoring opportunities as well.

“This falls on my shoulders. This knocks on the door of my classroom. I cannot be a bystander,” Sweetser said. “I have to take action to ensure my students see that they belong in the industry. This is not a single battle, and it must be fought on many fronts. It involves mentoring, representation and enabling our students to use their unique voices. As an educator, I can't be idle."

In addition to hosting webinars, changing her coursework and encouraging other faculty to do the same, Sweetser has developed the Black Mass Comm Scholars database, which is a tool designed to encourage faculty to diversify the work they use and discuss in their courses.

“Last summer, there was a lot of talk about Black scholars going unnoticed in academia which was very eye-opening to me for the challenges that my colleagues across the nation face,” Sweetser said. “By creating Black Mass Comm Scholars database, I really started to make it difficult for professors to say ‘well I don’t know who the Black scholars are,’ or ‘I need a specific article or topic.’ I created a tool where you can search on anything, from name to theory to method used and so there becomes less excuse when creating syllabi.”

“The list of what she has done in 2020 goes well beyond the SDSU students on campus,” said Temple Northup, director of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at SDSU. “This year, Kaye has been mobilized in support of diversity and equity as she extends her local efforts to a more national level, serving educators and teaching them how to create belonging. Kaye harnessed resources through the Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations to make a difference by creating support for Black and Latinx representation in PR.”

Professional Studies and Fine Arts Dean Peggy Shannon said the university is proud to have faculty like Sweetser on campus.

“Dr. Sweetser's contribution to our campus has been profound,” Shannon said. “We are all enormously grateful for her leadership and her commitment to her work.”

Sweetser credits being a professor at SDSU, which is a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), as well as the School of Journalism and Media Studies at SDSU for enabling her to do the work she feels is crucial for the industry.

“I really take advantage of the fact that I am at an HSI,” Sweetser said. “I think being at an HSI enables me to do a better job at moving toward this goal of diversifying the public relations industry. Not only are we a Hispanic-Serving Institution, but we are literally on an international border and SDSU’s embracing of what makes our community so strong has absolutely been a benefit to me and really allowed me the opportunity to move forward in these ways.”