Learning From Mistakes: How PR Students Feel About University Communications During COVID-19

Public relations has become a challenge this past year as everything went virtual — particularly for colleges. Many students believe their schools have improved their public relations skills as the pandemic progressed.

Natalia Ortiz, a public relations student at Manhattan College, felt her school’s lack of transparency made her transition to remote learning over a thousand miles away from campus more difficult.

“I think they hid a lot of stuff from us,” Ortiz said. “And in PR we always talk about being honest and acknowledge everything even if you don’t know what you’re doing…I wish they would have just been more vocal about everything they were doing.”

As a Manhattan College communication student myself, I agree with Ortiz — the school could have improved its communication by giving students and faculty information or admitting they did not have the answers to our questions.

Ortiz feels that it seems to have improved since then, a claim that was supported by fellow communication student Ally Mejia in an email.

“One of the biggest ways Manhattan College communicates COVID-19 updates has been through their “Jaspers Return” emails and the ‘OneManhattan: Return to Campus’ website,” Mejia wrote. “These specifically keep Manhattan College students informed about housing updates, testing results, and vaccine eligibility.”

Mejia went on to express how she feels about this new form of communication from the school.

“I, personally, am in support of the Jaspers Return emails,” she wrote. “I think it has been a great way to keep students and faculty informed about the testing results and other valuable information.”

Other schools in the area seem to be showcasing their good public relations skills as well. Carvens Lespinasse, the 2020–2021 Chapter president of St. John’s University PRSSA, felt that his school has communicated well with the student body with just one exception.

“The only thing that I would say that they could do a better job in is communicating with extracurricular activity leaders… I don’t get any emails directly, and considering the fact that I’m the president of the [PRSSA] Chapter, I would like to know what’s going on because there was a lot of miscommunication,” Lespinasse said.

I strongly believe that colleges and universities received a wakeup call this past year. I hope they will continue to improve the manner in which they communicate with their publics.

Jilleen Barrett is a communication major at Manhattan College. Jilleen is currently the managing editor and arts & entertainment editor for her school newspaper, The Quadrangle, and is the vice president of diversity and inclusion for the Delta Mu chapter of Sigma Delta Tau. Next fall, she will be one of the editors-in-chief of Lotus Magazine, a lifestyle and fashion magazine that originated at Manhattan. Jilleen is deeply committed to communication and hopes to work in journalism or public relations after she graduates in May 2023.

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