Diversity, equity, and inclusion is top of mind for many higher ed marketers, but figuring out the practical side of applying DEI concepts to the actual creative work marketing teams produce is often easier said than done. In this episode, we’ll hear from Kymm Martinez and Katie Jensen at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota about how they made DEI less intimidating and more actionable for their marketing team.

We discuss:

  • How the St. Thomas marketing team developed a shared vision around DEI
  • The steps they took to evaluate their existing marketing materials from a DEI perspective
  • The DEI Viewfinder tool they developed to help their team create more inclusive marketing materials
  • Practical advice for making DEI a part of your team’s day-to-day operations.

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Transcript

Jarrett Smith:

You’re listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Welcome to another episode of the Higher Ed Marketing Lab, I’m Jarrett Smith. Diversity, equity and inclusion is top of mind for many higher ed marketers, but figuring out the practical side of applying DEI concepts to the actual creative work marketing teams produce is often easier said than done. For instance, how exactly does a team review their work from a DEI perspective, without putting their colleagues on the defensive? Who decides when work needs to change? And how do you portray your school as an inclusive and welcoming community without overselling the level of diversity that actually exists on your campus?

In this episode, we’ll hear from two guests who’ve tackled these questions head-on and have some valuable learnings to share. Joining us is Kymm Martinez, VP of Marketing, Insights and Communications, and chief marketing and communications officer at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, and Katie Jensen, AVP of Insights and Analytics at St. Thomas. Like many university marketers, Kymm and Katie have grappled with the challenges of applying DEI concepts in their team’s creative work, and they have a unique perspective on how to make it less intimidating and more actionable.

We start by exploring how the St. Thomas marketing team developed a shared vision around DEI, and how they organized a thoughtful evaluation of their existing marketing materials. Then we hear about the DEI Viewfinder, a tool their team developed to help evaluate their creative work as it’s being produced. And finally, Kymm and Katie share their best advice for making DEI a regular part of your team’s operations. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Katie Jensen and Kymm Martinez. Kymm, Katie, welcome to the show.

Kymm Martinez:

Welcome. We’re so excited to be here.

Jarrett Smith:

Well, I’m so excited to have you here, and I think it’s going to be just a fantastic and very relevant topic that our audience is going to get a lot out of. Before we dive into that, I would love it if you could just tell us a little bit about the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and your roles there.

Kymm Martinez:

Well, I’ll start with the University of St. Thomas. We are the largest private university in the State of Minnesota. We are proudly a Catholic university. We are among the top 20 national Catholic universities in the country. We have eight schools and colleges, about 10,000 students, and lots of exciting things happening here in Minnesota. We have just launched a brand new school of nursing. We also are the very first university in modern NCAA history to go directly from D-3 to D-1, which just happened in July. So we’re super excited about that.

There’s just a lot of really exciting things happening at the university, and so it’s been fun to be a part of that. I’ve been here for about five and a half years. My background, my title, I am the chief marketing and chief communication officer here at the university. I came from industry, as I’ve learned to say in higher ed, about five years ago. I was at General Mills for 20 years prior to that. And I also hold the title of Vice President of the Marketing, Insights and Communications team here on campus.

Katie Jensen:

Yeah, so I’m Katie Jensen, I lead the insights and analytics team within the marketing, insights and communications team which Kymm leads. And so my team is really all about bringing the audiences to the forefront, and helping people understand and have empathy for the prospective students we’re trying to talk to, or our donors, or our alumni, and just really understand where they’re coming from, as well as measure and track our success in terms of our digital campaigns, our websites, all the analytics from the marketing side work with my team as well.

Jarrett Smith:

Excellent. So we are here today to talk about all things DEI and really how to make that practical for marketers. And I think this is one of those topics that is just on everybody’s mind. You may have seen it. I came across a poll, I think it was on Inside Higher Ed from the Art & Science Group, and they were talking about how prospective students view DEI, and it is top of mind. It is obviously not the only thing they’re considering, but they are looking at that as they’re evaluating schools. And I’m just curious kind of to start things off, as university marketers, where do you see yourselves fitting within your institution’s broader DEI efforts?

Kymm Martinez:

Yeah. I feel like we should also perhaps start off with a little bit of a disclaimer about, we’re not DEI experts. We have a ton of faculty here and other folks within the university that could claim a more theoretical expertise than we have. I would call us more practitioners and we know how important the DEI journey is, and so we have committed ourselves and our department to being on it, but just full disclosure, kind of on that front that this is a learning journey. And I know we’re going to talk a little bit more about that as we kind of get into the podcast.

But I think that the role of marketing and communications at our university or any university is critical to DEI because we’re the ones that are the storytellers that are really fashioning the narratives about the university and helping everybody to have the perceptions about the university that hopefully are accurate. And so making sure that we are really being inclusive with our messaging is really, really important. And so I would say that we’re essential. But of course, when we do think about marketing and communications, it’s really important that it falls on a base of something authentic and that it is embedded in the values of the university, so obviously the entire university plays a big role in making sure that we’re walking the walk on this.

And so as marketers, we are shining spotlights on things, but it’s up to the whole university to really feel it at its core because otherwise we shouldn’t be marketing it. So yeah, we’re critical I think to the university’s efforts to get the story out, but it also needs to be an authentic journey for the university.

Katie Jensen:

The other thing I would maybe add to that, Kymm, is just we work with every part of the university, and so we have the ability to see patterns across different teams or needs across different teams. And so when we think about the role we’ve played in DEI, a lot of times it’s, we’re just in the conversation on a regular basis, and so we have the ability to influence and kind of help push things forward. Even just the way that our faculty communicate with students, or the way that our staff communicates with each other also needs to be inclusive and bring this sense of belonging because we want our entire community to feel included and welcomed here. And so some of our role too is just, we’re there as colleagues and coworkers trying to push this ahead for everybody.

Jarrett Smith:

I think that’s a great perspective. So St. Thomas, like many schools, is associated with its faith tradition, and in this case you are a Catholic school. I’m curious to what extent that has played into, or possibly created any challenges with regard to DEI. I mean, I think I’m thinking specifically about individuals that identify as LGBTQIA+. Has that presented any sort of unique hurdles that you would call out for your school?

Kymm Martinez:

I guess the first thing I would say is our faith tradition is what calls us to, we have a conviction of dignity which is very much rooted in Catholic social thought, which is about respecting the dignity of all and loving everybody and really welcoming the diversity into our community. And we absolutely do that. So I would argue that everything that we do as a university on the DEI front, including welcoming our LGBTQIA members of our community here is rooted in Catholic social traditions. So it is part of who we are as a university to accept and embrace, and to really allow everybody to bring their full potential, and to know that we as a community are stronger because of all those diverse perspectives.

Now having said that, there’s a wide variety of perspectives within the Catholic faith about how welcoming institutions should be. And that’s where, we are a university we’re Catholic, but we’re also a university. And so we are just making it very clear that our convictions call us to welcome and embrace. We do celebrate and uplift all members of our community here. And the best way we can just make sure that we overcome any resistance to that, again is to just clearly communicate, “This is who we are. That’s not up for debate. It’s part of our Catholic social teaching,” and be very honest about that so that nobody is left to wonder what is our position on various topics. So we make it very clear it’s part of who we are and it’s part of our Catholicism.

Jarrett Smith:

I think that’s a great perspective and thank you for sharing that. I think the way your team got started on the DEI journey and the actual marketing products you’re putting out there, the marketing and communications products you’re putting out there is really interesting. And Kymm, you said at the beginning of this, you said, “We are not approaching this from a fully informed theoretical standpoint, we’re really coming at this from a very practical angle.” But I think the way you went about as a team deciding, “How are we going to put this into practice and how are we going to make progress on our journey towards better diversity, equity and inclusion or marketing materials?” was super interesting. Could you just kind of tell us about, I guess at a high level, kind of a 30,000 foot view, where did you start? How did you approach this in a sensible way?

Kymm Martinez:

Actually it started with the university’s convictions. As I mentioned, one of them is dignity, and we obviously have a university definition of what that means. But as a department, we were going through the university’s convictions and then taking a marketing, insights and communications lens to them and writing, “What does it mean to embrace dignity and diversity in marketing and communication?” So that’s trying to articulate what that meant was where we started. And this was probably about three years ago. I would argue that the first paragraph that we came up with to describe, we were talking about wanting to make sure that we were never treating any members of our community as tokens or trying to oversell what our actual experience of being here on the campus was looking like. So three years ago, we kind of started there and started on the journey.

And then just recently we went back to that description to just see, is there any updating that we would want to do? And because of the work that we’ve been on, we’re now specifically saying that we’re an anti-racist department. We want to root out systemic racism in our place. So there’s our journey even in terms of our language has really kind of evolved. But it did start with that place. We ourselves are white cisgender females, so recognizing that and diving into white privilege and what that means, and again, recognizing that we don’t want our communities of color, either in our department or in the university, to always be the one that are educating people on what DEI should look like. We said, “Well, we’re going to take that on.”

And so it’s coming from that articulation of it, we started a committee that we call Representing DEI with Integrity Committee. Actually, it initially started as the Marketing DEI with Integrity Committee, and then we thought, “You know what? That doesn’t feel right to say we’re marketing it. We want to represent it.” So even that language was a bit of an evolution, and we have members of our group bidding monthly, bringing forward issues, topics. And one of the ideas that the group came up with is, maybe we should do an audit of some of our marketing and communications, and get feedback on how we think we’re doing. We are looking at this stuff every day, we’re thinking about this stuff every day, but potentially we’re missing something. And so that’s where Katie’s team actually came in to help facilitate that audit. So I don’t know, if you want to talk a little bit about that?

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. So with this audit, part of our goal was to, as Kymm said, just get outside of our team, get some fresh eyes on things, but also knowing that, we’re not experts in DEI and wanting to tap into the experts we have on campus, or at least people who have been engaged in the journey. And so we worked with a group called SEED. It stands for Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, which is a national program. So we happen to have a chapter of that here at St. Thomas. And so we partnered with them and we recruited a handful of people who had graduated from this program where they dive deep into DEI concepts, and we said, “Hey, look at our materials and tell us what you see. Put sticky notes all over it.”

And so we gathered a ton of feedback. We then had focus groups with them to really kind of dive deep into the topics and learn more, and we came out of it with a really interesting perspective then on all of the things we had missed, even though we’d been paying attention and an ability maybe to spot those issues a little more easily. So from there we developed what we’re calling the DEI Viewfinder tool, which kind of lays out nine questions you can ask yourself to help develop more inclusive materials.

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah. And we definitely want to set aside some time to talk about the Viewfinder, because it’s super cool and just such a practical tool. If we’re going to dive into that, I guess one question I have is just, how did you decide what to audit in the first place? I am sure your team is turning out a lot of materials. Where did you focus your effort to make it doable?

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. I mean the key was really that doable piece is, how do you… Because we spent a lot of time actually just going round and round about, “What should we put into this audit?” And so, for anybody who would want to do something like this, my advice would be just keep it simple. Pick a few things, pick things that are really important, really central pieces. So for us, we picked our undergraduate view book. We picked the program pages that we have for each of our 150 plus majors and minors, because we know those are some of the first places that our undergraduate students see and get a perspective for, “What is this community like?”

And then we also picked something from our graduate side, so we picked from our Opus College of Business. They had an awareness campaign that we also put into it. So trying to find a bit of range and also kind of pick some of those big high profile items that we could learn from. We also found that, especially the view book, a lot of what we do in other places kind of flows from what that view book creative looks like. And so that was another reason to pick a piece like that, that sort of is representative, it has a lot of tentacles in other work that we do.

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah. It’s going to set a lot of direction for the other materials that you create. I know we’re in a podcast, so it’s a little hard to kind of visualize some of these things, but maybe we can paint a picture with words. I’m curious your audit, were there any things that kind of leapt out at you as things that surprised you, that the team came back with that you just weren’t expecting, or that opened your eyes to maybe seeing some things in different ways?

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. What’s interesting about it is that most of the stuff they came back with were topics we were aware of. So things like, “Don’t reinforce stereotypes. Don’t use language that might be perceived differently by somebody from a different background, code words or idioms, for example.” So these are things we knew about out, but the trick was getting ourselves to actually spot them. And so I think our biggest aha from it is if we could have sort of a mental checklist, which makes it sound simple and it’s not, but a mental checklist of, “Here are some of the things to check for,” and then examples of how that actually comes life. I think it was the examples that really unlocked for us a much better ability to just be able to spot those things.

And then I would say too, just it reinforced for us a sense of how important it is to get other people’s eyes on it. Even if it’s within our own team, people who haven’t been working on the project, because you swap in a headline or you swap in a picture and you Frankenstein this thing together and suddenly you have a combination of things that you might never have put together in the first place. And by the time you get to that final product, you can’t even see some of the issues that you have. So that was for me, one of the biggest ahas.

Kymm Martinez:

Yeah. I guess I would say the other aha for me was just how many comments people had and how many things that they spotted. Again, we’ve been on this journey, we thought we were… I mean, we obviously knew we were going to learn something or we wouldn’t have undertaken it in the first place, but the sheer breadth of the feedback that we got back was pretty interesting. And then just to underscore another point about what Katie said, the examples are key because it’s one thing to say something like, “Don’t reinforce the stereotype.” I mean, who’s not going to nod their head to that. But it’s the examples of like, “Did you realize you were reinforcing this stereotype, or this one or this one?” That was really what brought it to life for people to be able to, “Oh, wow.”

Because it’s easy to agree with statements and things that you know you should do, but once you see it in action, it’s more important. So what’s interesting about this whole thing is we started it because we thought it was just going to be for us. We just were using it within our team as a tool, but the insights were so rich that that’s when we said, “Wow. This has implications for anything that we’re doing, anytime we’re communicating, even internal communications.” And so that’s when we realized, “Hey, we need to package this up so that others can learn from these insights.” And we started internally at the university and then now we’re going external with it as well, just to help spread the word of things that were insights for us that we hope others… If we can help somebody else from making a mistake that we made, great, we’ll all be better off.

Jarrett Smith:

I think it’s such a interesting point you both make that, you’re both approaching this thoughtfully, like nobody is going out to create a piece of creative that’s going to reinforce a stereotype or use a language that is loaded, and at the same time in the moment. And I think it’s almost like when you’re that close to the creative, maybe it’s hard to read the label when you’re inside your own bottle. You’re just too close to it, you’ve got too many other considerations that you’re thinking about, and it can kind of fall to the background. I think that’s just such an interesting point. Just so our audience has a sense of the type of things that came up, could you throw out maybe a couple of examples of things either big or small that were brought to your attention that you hadn’t seen before?

Kymm Martinez:

I mean, I’ll start off with one that, so as a Catholic university, one of the headlines that we love to use actually either digitally or in other places is, Blessed are the Nerdy. We love that headline because it reinforces the academic excellence that we represent, but at the same time it has a little bit of humor and a nod to our faith-based tradition. So Blessed are the Nerdy, when we were originally looking at using that, we were using a stock image of a nerd. And in this case, the nerd happened to be Asian, and we were using that sort of as a juxtaposition. And that’s a classic example of, “You are reinforcing a stereotype by using an Asian in this particular image.” So that’s a great example of like… And we also were using stock photography, which again, we don’t love to use, but sometimes if you can’t get the authentic shot in your community, it’s easier.

But so we went back to student affairs and we said, “All right, this is what we’re trying to convey. We need somebody that is going to be comfortable looking kind of a little bit more bookish. Can you help us here?” And they came forward with a student, an actual student who loves to dress in bow ties, like that’s his authentic self to do that. Happened to be an African American guy with a wonderful smile and just a wonderful way about him. And he was excited to be featured. And so we flipped it. So we have him, a African American male as our model for Blessed are the Nerdy. And so anyway, that’s a great example of a stereotype that we wouldn’t have necessarily thought of. I’m sure I can think of others on my hand, but do you have any others that are top of mind for you?

Katie Jensen:

The other one I’d maybe mention is just the idea of subtleties and how if you are from a marginalized group, you might really pick up on things. So for example, we had one of our ads from the Opus campaign, there was a person who you couldn’t immediately tell, “Is it a man or a woman?” A little bit androgynous. And so if you are part of the non-binary community, it just signals a bit of, “Oh, maybe there’s a place for me here.” Or we had an image in one of our undergraduate program pages on the website where a young man is holding up a frog and he’s got a wedding ring on. So that signals maybe if you’re an older, maybe non-traditional student that this might be a place welcoming for you as well. So I thought that was really interesting too, not just the things to avoid, but the things to include that might signal something in a positive way, not in a message you didn’t intend sort of way.

Kymm Martinez:

One other example that pops to mind too is, in our, I believe it was also in our undergrad view book, our creatives were working with illustration and so we would have the picture, but there were little doodles kind of around the picture, just for more of a friendlier feel and tone, and that was going all the way through the book. There was one photo of a professor talking to a couple of students and there’s no words in these doodles, so they’re all just kind of like doodles. And above one of the black student’s heads is kind of a thought bubble that has just lines in it. Because again, we’re not using words, but one thing that was pointed out to us is, “Are you trying to say that she has no thoughts, that she couldn’t come up with anything to say to the professor?”

And I think that that’s actually really interesting thing because you put that thought bubble on top of a white male student, you’re probably not going to get the same person drawing the same conclusion. So it’s a good example of just context and being careful, even just unintended messages that you’re trying to say. Which actually ladders to another point that I think is really important to make. You were talking before about just like putting these things together. Our creative team, we have an internal creative team who are just amazing and they do really wonderful work in partnership with all of our schools and colleges. And it’s really important to, this DEI journey is everyone’s job and it’s not their fault if they come out with something like that instance for example. We’re not going to, “Why did you put a thought bubble with no words in it above the black woman?”

I mean, it’s all of our jobs to actually think about this and catch this, and you can’t personalize the fact that you missed it because we all missed it too. I mean, this went all the way through Katie, it went through me and it took this group, this external group looking at it with a different lens to find it. So that’s another, I think really important lesson on the journey is to not expect perfection of yourself and to lean on others. And again, not just to lean on your communities of color to help you with that. That’s not fair, but to lean on others and to expect that it takes a village in some respects to get this right.

Jarrett Smith:

I think that is such an important point, Kymm, the attitude with which you approach your team about… And from the very beginning you said this was rooted in sort of the authentic principles and values of the institution. You were thinking about, “How does this apply to our department? Let’s try and articulate that.” And then as you said, you’ve gone back and you’ve evolved this over time, and so you’re kind of taking people on this journey where it’s like, “Okay, we’re not going to achieve perfection, and it’s okay. We’re all doing our level best to try and continue to improve and to be more mindful about the products that we’re creating and what messages they’re sending.” I think it’s such an important point.

But that does bring me to my next question, which is, at some point you’ve got to ship work, you have deadlines to meet. And I think in this case, it’s one of those areas where you will never achieve perfect. You will always be able to point to something in the work and say, “That’s not quite ideal. There may be a better way to handle this.” So how do you talk to your team about it? How do you on your own think about kind of balancing the need to make improvement and be mindful, thoughtful about what you’re communicating, but also at the end of the day ship work that you know to some extent is never going to meet that perfect standard.

Kymm Martinez:

I mean, I think the trick is to just acknowledge that up from the get-go that this is a journey. The other thing is that it’s constantly evolving. This landscape is evolving, language evolves. So even something that might have been appropriate a year ago, maybe isn’t appropriate today because of new learning out there. So even if you studied up and got the A on the test originally of doing all the things right, again you have to stay current on this. And as a result of that, it’s impossible because there’s always going to be something. So I think it’s just about setting that expectation that you want to do the best that you can. It is obviously focusing on intent, although I think it is important to also remember impact. So it’s not enough just to say, “Well, we intended good, so sorry if the impact wasn’t there.”

I think we have to own the impact that we make in addition to our intentions. But just again, to assure everybody that this is a journey. I mean, one of the ways that we tangibly reinforce that for our group is we have personal diversity goals that we ask every employee of the marketing, insights and communications team to commit to at the beginning of the year as part of their annual objective setting. And we don’t dictate what those are. Those are very personal. So you can choose for yourself what it is, but I expect you to have like two to three of your own personal goals, that’s going to help you on that journey.

It could be reading books by diverse authors or consuming media about different population. It could be anything that you feel is going to help you on your journey, but it reinforces to the full team, “This is a journey and we expect you to get on it, but you can kind of dictate how you’re comfortable moving forward.” Because obviously we’ve got people across our team that are at very different points in the spectrum. I don’t know if you have anything you’d add to that.

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. Well, I would just say that one of the things that’s important when you’re thinking about the balance between, “Do we make this edit? How critical are we going to be of our own work?” versus, “We got to get stuff out of the door,” and we’re full up to capacity most of the time, but what’s really important is it is worth the time to take a minute and make sure that we’re sending inclusive messages, that we are not sending unintended messages. And so I think that’s been a bit of a shift for us too in opening up the conversation to DEI and being open to it all the way up the chain to Kymm, as a leader of our department. It’s expected that you’ll speak up. If you see something, you need to say something. And I think maybe prior to having some of these tools and having been on this journey, people were maybe noticing something and thinking, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t speak up. I don’t want to derail the project.”

And now I think we’re much more comfortable being able to say, “Hey, I noticed something here, can we have a conversation about it?” It doesn’t mean we need to make a change, it just means we should talk about it and make sure we’re all comfortable and make sure we feel good about a risk we might take, or, “Hey, I saw it this way, but maybe everyone else sees it a different way.” And so it’s really about that conversation, and if we can pause for a minute to have the conversation. A lot of times it’s not throwing out the whole project, it’s swapping in one different picture or changing one headline slightly. So I don’t think it’s taken as much time as we might have feared to be able to do it, and it feels good to have taken that moment and said, “Okay, do we feel good about this? All right. Let’s go.”

Kymm Martinez:

And that’s where that committee that I was talking about also plays a role, because if you as individual see something that you’re maybe a little bit uncomfortable with, or maybe your spidey sense has gone off, but you can’t really put your finger on why, there is a place for you to bring that image or whatever it is that sort of caused your spine to tingle and to say, “Is anyone else seeing this? Am I overthinking or is there something here?” So there’s a forum actually to bring that forward to get others points of view. And and again, then we as a group can decide, “All right. Is this something we want to approach somebody else on campus with or something like that?” Again, always with humility. We’re not the DEI police, we don’t have all the answers with it.

But I think the other message to really underscore with some of the things we’ve done, like in terms of starting off with just, “What does the diversity conviction mean for our group, the dignity conviction?” Setting up our committee, our personal diversity goals, these are all things we didn’t need university approval to do. It’s not like we waited for HR to say, “All right, now we’re formally going to add these personal diversity goals into our annual plan.” I mean, we just did it, and it’s not in our online form, but everybody has kind of their offline objectives that they have as well. So hopefully your viewers are taking from this that, this is stuff you can do and implement that you don’t necessarily need to wait for somebody to give you approval to do in order to start on the journey.

Jarrett Smith:

And we definitely, I would like to dig into implementation a little bit, but before we get there, I would love to talk about the DEI Viewfinder. Could you tell us what it is and how it works?

Katie Jensen:

Sure. Yeah. It’s a really simple tool, which is kind of the beauty of it, but what the Viewfinder does is it gives you nine questions you can ask yourself or ask with a buddy or ask somebody else to take a look through, and it really calls out some of those key topics in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, and across all types of diversity. And so really what it does is it gives us these questions we can tick through in our heads. It also gives us common language to use with each other. So instead of saying, “Wow, that picture and that headline together is super racist,” we can say, “I think that’s reinforcing a stereotype,” or, “I think that that is, there’s some unconscious bias coming in there and let’s talk about it.”

So it’s really a tool that you can use, and for any piece of creative, we tick through and we say, “All right, does it hit on any of these?” And if it does, we have a conversation. And so that’s one of the key things with it. The point of it is to be super critical, super detailed about the work that you’re doing. Sometimes we even catch ourselves going, “Oh gosh, are we being overly sensitive, overly critical?” And that’s the point. The point is to really take that critical look and then have the conversation and say, “What do we think? Do other people take the same thing away? Do we need to pull in other people to give us additional feedback?” And then-

Kymm Martinez:

Can I just script for that particular point too? And we don’t always, even when we’ve thought of something with like maybe, we don’t always make the change. And I think Katie said that before, but I mean, we sometimes agree that we’re going to lean into risk either because of there’s another benefit that would be going away if we swapped out the image or what have you. So it’s not a done deal that just because somebody brings something up, we’re automatically to be like, “Ooh, we have to stay 10 feet away from that.” It’s the discussion and then you make a decision on the basis of the risk and the risk reward, the benefit to that. So I just wanted to make that point as well.

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. And one of the things that we love about it is that it’s given us that common language we can use with other teams as well, so when we see something another team has put together. Because I’m sure like many of your listeners, if they’re marketers in higher ed, they are not the only people creating content on behalf of their institution. And so it gives us the ability to say, “Hey, we’ve been on this journey too. We made all these mistakes and here’s all these examples of mistakes that we’ve made.” And it comes with a bit of humility as well to be able to have that tool and be able to show people that, “We’re on a journey and we invite you to join us. And we notice something in your work we’d like to share.”

But the meat of the tool really is there’s these nine questions, for each question we give an overview of what it’s all about, and then we give those handful of examples that really bring it to life. And again, that’s one of the pieces we think is so critical is if you can give those examples that really helps people kind of put it in their brains and really understand and potentially make it easier for them to spot it in their own work.

Jarrett Smith:

So at this point, how many different groups I guess, across your university are actively using the Viewfinder in their day-to-day work?

Katie Jensen:

I don’t know how many are actually using it. I hope they are. We’ve trained several units on it. So we’ve trained anything from, we did a training with the entire faculty and staff of our school of education, for example. We’ve also done it with all of our social media content creators which live across all kinds of departments within the university. We’ve done leadership academy trainings, which is our internal HR kind of professional development group. We’ve done trainings there where we get everybody from the admin, for the provost who puts together all of his emails and presentations and things like that, to faculty members, to even students in some cases. So-

Kymm Martinez:

Actually that’s another one you’ve done it for. We have a student-run media agency on campus, which I’m sure a lot of people do, we call it TommieMedia, and there’s been a presentation to all the reporters, all the folks that are involved with TommieMedia, because sometimes we see things that they’re posting and doing, and we’re like, “Whoa, they might be able to benefit from these questions as well.”

Jarrett Smith:

I’m curious, as you’ve rolled it out to these different groups and kind of socialized this more, have you received any pushback or how has it been received overall, and then have you received any sort of specific pushback?

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. So I would say it’s been really well-received, particularly just as a very actionable tool that people can use. I think the tough part with DEI is once you’re kind of on the journey for a little while and you’re spending time and you’re learning and your eyes are so open to all the things that aren’t great about how marginalized groups are treated and you want to take some action, and it’s hard to know how to do that. And a lot of times I think people leave DEI trainings going, “Okay, I get it. I know there’s issues here, but what can I do?” And so that’s been one of the biggest pieces of feedback is just how actionable and accessible it is. You don’t have to know every stereotype that exists in the world to know that, “I’ve seen that trope before and I just want to research it a little bit and learn more about it.”

So it’s really, it’s accessible to anyone no matter where they are on the journey. I would say in practice some of the more difficult conversations I would say, I don’t know if it’s been pushback is just, with people who are creating content. Our creative team, people who write stories for us, and they’re having the benefit of this being an additional thing that we’re coming back to them and giving them feedback on their work, which I give creative teams a ton of credit. I couldn’t do what they do and have people tell me my baby’s ugly all day. But that’s been the toughest thing. And so what has again been helpful with this tool is that common language and the ability to say, “I think this is sending a message you didn’t intend, and here’s kind of the category that falls in, and let’s talk about that.” I think this has made those conversations easier than they were before we had something like this.

Jarrett Smith:

And again, it just underscores the importance for me about leading with the attitude of progress not perfection, awareness, mindfulness around these issues, but there is no end state where we check it off and it’s just done. And so that sets you up to be able to have a more positive interaction on those things.

Kymm Martinez:

Actually, that does remind me of another, I guess I wouldn’t call it a pushback, but another question that we get. We’re as a university on a journey and our faculty, student, staff community, we would like it to be more diverse than it is. So that leads to a question around from a marketing, communication standpoint is where do you draw the line in terms of you want to represent an aspiration of the university such that you can draw from a population that will help increase diversity, but at the same time, you don’t want to overpromise and create an image of something that actually doesn’t exist when it’s here. So that’s another conversation that we do get into when we roll this out.

And sometimes I think people are looking for, they want like the answer, they want the black or white answer. So every picture should have 25% people of color and 75% white people, because that’s what the diversity of the student body in the first year class looks like. And it’s not that simple. And again, all these things are nuanced and it’s a little bit more gray. So the line that we walk is, we do want to nod to the university that we want to become, so we think it is all right to lean a little bit into aspirational, but we never want to cross the line to where we’re selling again, a look, a tone, a feel that just doesn’t exist here at the university. So we have dialogues around that.

An example is we were doing a campaign here on campus. It was an internal campaign in conjunction with our advancement group, thanking people for the philanthropy, the many gifts that have come onto campus. And so we had taken photos of students with their thumbs up just sort of thanking donors. And there were six students originally that were photographed, and of the six, four were students of color. And so that was something where like, “Okay. That would be like two thirds of the folks in the picture.” So that was an example of something we took back to our committee to discuss. We said, “How do we feel about that?” Because again, we’re not trying to come up with a rule in terms of like, “Every campaign has to have this percentage, but in this particular case, knowing how first of all, everybody was going to have a chance to see all the images because they were going to be what we like to call campus famous, so they were going to be everywhere on campus.

It just didn’t feel like the right mix. It felt like we were over, perhaps going into that token area that we do not want to be in. So our solve for that was to shoot four more students to bring it up to 10 in total and to keep the original four students of color as part of that 10, just to help that mix feel a little bit more true to life. So that’s just an example of how we try and walk that line, and that is one of the questions that we sometimes get when rolling out the tool is aspirational versus reality.

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah. I think that’s such a great point because it’s not a math problem at the end of the day that has a perfect answer.

Kymm Martinez:

No, people would love it to be because then it’s easier. You count the number of people and then you… But it’s not that, that’s why the conversation is important.

Katie Jensen:

And I would say that applies across all of the concepts in the Viewfinder. People want it to be a simple, “This is your set of rules and if you follow these rules, you’re going to be okay.” And that’s just not the case. I mean the diversity and inclusion concepts are complex and nuanced, and so sometimes too from our creative team, another example here, we had a picture that we said we really shouldn’t be using, that had a kid doing a thumbs up. And he happened to be in front of the Colosseum in Rome, and in parts of Italy, a thumbs up is offensive.

And so we gave that feedback and we said, “Look, we can’t use it in this case because he’s really kind of bringing his own culture into this place where he’s supposed to be immersing in Italian culture.” And so our creative team was like, “Got it. We won’t use thumbs up anymore.” And it was like, “No, no, you can use thumbs up, it’s just in the context of that situation.” So that’s a big piece of this is just embracing there’s a lot of gray area and that’s why the conversations are so important to just make sure that we’re thinking through it, and is it okay in this case, because the answer might be different depending on the context.

Jarrett Smith:

So thinking about operationalizing this, people are listen to this and saying like, “Wow, this is very cool. I think we could do something similar on our campus.” What advice do you have for folks that are thinking about rolling out something similar at their own institution?

Katie Jensen:

My advice would be starting with buy-in at the leadership level. One of the things we are really lucky to have is this woman sitting next to me here, Kymm, is a champion of DEI at St. Thomas and even in her personal life. And so, we are lucky to have a executive sponsor who expects us to do this work, who puts it in our personal objectives every year, who asks us to engage and welcomes us to engage no matter where we are on that journey. And I think that piece is really important because now it is an expectation of our creative team when we brief them, or our writers when we brief them, that they know that one of the things when they bring it back to us is, “Yes, does it hit on the key messages we want to hit? Does it speak to the audience? Is it inclusive?”

They know that that is going to be a bar that they’re held to. And so when the feedback comes, it’s not a surprise, that’s part of the deal. I would also say though, in fairness to them, they’re so close to those pieces that we can’t always expect them to come with a perfectly inclusive piece. And so, one thing we’ve done is we’ve said, “We’re not going to make the applying the DEI Viewfinder a step in the process, it’s something that anybody who comes in contact with a piece on its journey to being developed can step in with, “Hey, I’m noticing this thing from a DEI lens.” And so that’s been really good too. It’s this shared accountability, it’s not one person’s job. It’s not a thing we do at one point in time, it’s something we’re all aware of and all free and open to say, “All right, let’s take a second and take a look at this.”

Jarrett Smith:

That’s really interesting. My assumption was that, “Oh, this must just be a formal step in the process.” And that’s interesting that you found that actually it seems to work better for your team that it’s not again, maybe a box that you’re ticking.

Katie Jensen:

Right. Exactly. I think that’s part of what we’re trying to do is it shouldn’t be the like, “Oh, it’s this cursory thing.” It should be part of anybody who’s reviewing the materials should be looking at it that way. It also means though that we have some freedom for people who are maybe more immersed in DEI concepts. When they come to it, they’re for sure looking at it. For those who are maybe less comfortable, they know that there will be other people along the way who can apply it. And then it also means that sometimes if people are less comfortable, they might tap those of us who are more used to using it. So just it provides a little more freedom and feels less like a hoop you have to jump through and more just like, “This is anybody who’s reviewing it is going to want to be looking at this stuff.”

Jarrett Smith:

It becomes more of a community effort at that point.

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. And much more conversation too. I mean, I just actually, I got a text from a coworker on the way to the bus stop to drop my daughter off this morning to say, “Hey, what do you think of this picture? Well, now let me show you it in context.” Or just kind of constantly having these little conversations, and these are conversations where we would’ve in the past felt like, “Ooh, I got to sit down and have a really careful one-on-one conversation with somebody and really…” And it’s just opened up our comfort levels with it.

Jarrett Smith:

That is really interesting. Okay. So let me flip this around and you may have kind of already hit on all these things, but how could somebody go wrong trying to roll this out on their campus? I think you’ve kind of already touched on a few what not to do type things.

Katie Jensen:

Yeah. I mean, I think you for sure don’t want to be the only one. I don’t think you want to be the lone wolf. A lot of the magic with it is the conversations you can have, and the dialogue that it opens up. That’s actually been one of the really positive of things for us is showing others in the university that we have opened ourselves up to this feedback and we’re open to it and we’re having these conversations. We’re getting more feedback from people when they see something. It used to be that we would hear it, three or four people down the road when, “Oh, somebody saw this,” and then finally it gets to somebody who’s comfortable talking to us. And we’re hearing from a bigger variety of people now too, both on the positive and negative. So I think it’s definitely, it’s got to be ingrained in your team culture and you have to be sort of committed to, “We’re on a journey together and we’re going to hold hands and do this as a group.”

Kymm Martinez:

Yeah. I would just echo too, and again, the importance of approaching this with humility and making sure again that people know that you’re not considering yourself the expert, and now you’re going out to try and tell everybody how to do that. Especially in an academic setting where sometimes marketing, people can look at that and say, “Wait a minute, you’re just spinning.” We want to just make very clear what our roles are in there. But I said this at the beginning of the podcast but I can’t underscore it enough, the other really, really, really important way you can go wrong is if the institution that you’re talking about does not have a true commitment to this, and yet you’re out there trying to represent that you do.

That would be very difficult, kind of like in a show stopper from the very, very beginning. So it’s important to as a university, as an institution, as an organization to have a true commitment to walking the walk on DEI, because people will smell it immediately if you are just trying to spin something that isn’t there, or put lipstick on a pig, as we sometimes like to say. That’s not going to work. It doesn’t work in this space. It needs to be authentic.

Katie Jensen:

Can I just add one more I think really critical thing? And you touched on this earlier, but the other way you can go wrong is relying on the people on your team from marginalized communities to do this work. We talk a lot and this is part of the humility we try to have about this. We realize we’re two white women up here talking about this stuff, white cisgendered, able-bodied, straight. And so, that’s important because we hear a lot from our colleagues from marginalized groups that they are tired. They have, we call it representation fatigue, which I thought was a really eye-opening term because they are being asked to draw on experiences of oppression and hurt, and to do it for free on top of their day jobs.

And so, one of the things we really like about this tool is it’s given us a way to contribute and not always have to rely on those folks on our team to speak up and do the work. It’s tiring. And so, that would be the other piece is just, that’s one of the reasons it’s important that it’s everybody, because it can’t just be those few people on the team.

Jarrett Smith:

Wow. What great advice. So what’s next? What’s next for St. Thomas and your DEI efforts? What’s next for your team? Where do you go from here?

Kymm Martinez:

So I’ll talk at the university level first and then bring about our group. Our university has all sorts of really wonderful initiatives underway. Right after George Floyd was murdered here in Minneapolis, we founded a racial justice initiative here with a fantastic scholar, Dr. Yohuru Williams at the helm of that, that is doing a lot of work in terms of historical recovery, and really trying to engage in conversations about, “How do we grow from here? How do we do better from here?” So that’s just one aspect of what the university is doing.

We also have a new college that launched back in 2016, the Dougherty Family College, which actually is focused on underrepresented students, helping them get to a four-year degree. So it’s a two-year program, but that wraps around and provides all sorts of different support for a person who might not have been able to enroll directly in a four-year. But we provide that support for them so that they can then get that support in the first two years and then transfer hopefully to St. Thomas but also other schools. The most important thing is that they get a degree.

So the university has a lot of initiatives like that, that we’re involved in. We just launched a new college of health that is very much engaged in healthcare disparities and eliminating health inequities. Our college of education, our school of education is very much focused on the gap. Minnesota has one of the worst education gaps in the country in terms of when you look at students of color grad rates versus white student grad rates. And so we’ve got a school that’s very much focused on that. So there’s a lot of work at the university level that we’re doing which we’re then privileged and proud to be able to represent and tell the stories in our group.

So for our group, we’re just going to continue on again with our journey. We’ve just done our very first ever three year DEI plan for our group. It includes things like looking at our suppliers, our freelancers, making sure that we’re working with more BIPOC-owned businesses or freelancers. There’s all sorts of things that are in our strategic plan, but we’ve written it down to just make sure that it’s on our journey. And this particular Viewfinder tool, again we’re starting to do… We’ve already been doing presentations outside of St. Thomas. As people have become aware of this tool and are interested in it, and we’re very happy to share that because it has applicability not only for other higher ed institutions, but also for anyone that’s in an organization.

So we’ve been doing presentations on that, but that obviously, the scalability of our ability to be able to get out there and do all the presentations is limited. So we’re in the process of trying to turn this into an online course that people could access that would then hopefully bring the tool to more people, because that would be our goal. We want everyone to have access to it. That’s one of the things I love about working in higher ed is the willingness to share things that you’ve uncovered and discovered that could be of use to other people, and that’s what we are trying to do here.

Jarrett Smith:

Well, that is great. So Kymm and Katie, if folks want to reach out to you and find out more, continue this conversation, what are the best places to do that?

Kymm Martinez:

Well with both, it’s easy to reach us via email, and the email nomenclature here is pretty simple. First name ., last name @. St. Thomas, S-T-T-H-O-M-A-S.edu. And I’m assuming our names are going to be, the spellings are going to be published somewhere so we don’t have to run through that here. So there’s that. LinkedIn is another great place to reach either one of us. And we’re very open to having the conversations with anyone who is wanting to start on this journey and wants to learn from what we’ve done.

Jarrett Smith:

Well, thank you both so much for sharing so openly and freely with the journey that you’ve been on, and I think so many folks are going to find this very useful in their day-to-day work. So I just want to say thank you for joining us today.

Kymm Martinez:

Thank you for having us. Really appreciate it.

Katie Jensen:

Thanks Jarrett.

Jarrett Smith:

The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full service enrollment marketing agency for colleges and universities of all sizes. To see some of the work we’ve done and how we’ve helped schools just like yours, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe, and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. And as always, if you have a comment, question, suggestion or episode idea, feel free to drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co.