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Integrating Advocacy Into Digital Communities

Social media allows people to raise awareness on diversity and inclusion issues AND participate in performative social justice.

In September 2020, a group of educators came together to discuss ways that they amplified voices and experiences for marginalized communities. Advocacy efforts in digital communications can sometimes be riddled with empty diversity statements, tokenism in marketing, and reliance on people of color for education.  Drawing the line between “advocacy” and “virtual signaling”, this panel explores how educators can integrate meaningful antiracist strategies into online communities.

About Higher Ed Digital Community Builders

Organized by Dr. Josie Ahlquist, this Facebook group is a clubhouse for higher education professionals to connect, reimagine and transform how we build genuine campus digital communities and strategic online engagement experiences. Every week, community members share resources, discussions, and opportunities to further develop digital communities that serve our students, families, and partners in timely, innovative, and supportive ways.

Highlighted Content from Panelists

Links to what was mentioned during the panel (Click on the Image for Links). 

[1:15] What’s a digital community that’s really pouring into you?


[4:57] What does digital community building mean to you?

A big part about having a digital community is not only having the space but also the opportunity to be authentic in displaying your culture. So whatever that is, creating a community online is all about explaining your culture in whatever forms that might be.

[7:57] What is advocacy on digital space? How are we meeting those students or faculties?

[13:36] What are your thoughts on university statements on equity and inclusion issues? What does advocacy look like once the statement has been released?

[18:29] Are there other digital communities doing more than just releasing the statements? Are there any strategies for working outside of this statement?



[23:46] When we are listening or lurking around for the concerns of students, how do we amplify those voices?

I let students be themselves on social media, which means that I don’t hide comments. I let it be real and reply to both positive and critical comments. I think this shows that the university is listening.

Sharing resources that show that you are listening. Sometimes people think an injustice incident is just a one-time thing, so what we’ve been actively doing is to show that this isn’t a one-off situation, that we are legitimately trying to make a change. Then partner up with students who have voices that individuals hear, so they can feel the support.

You can’t really turn a blind eye to what people are experiencing when you put a face to that, because this is their experience. When you are reading these experiences, if you have some type of impact when they didn’t feel represented, you have to take that responsibility. Though institutional responses to these experiences depend on them, knowing that I’m able to share these stories of black people is important. Sometimes people might not even recognize that they could lack support, so when they read these stories it makes them feel validated, so they can then tackle these problems.

[39:16] What are some mistakes that institutions have been making when it comes to advocacy?

You cannot just put black and brown students on social media and say that we have diversity.

It’s important to not just use people as props for marketing, but actually sharing their stories.

One mistake that people make is not amplifying voices of concerns at all, and when incidents happen, schools release a statement which comes off to be performative.

[50:00] If you have to give a piece of advice on advocacy in digital communities, what would you give?

Don’t be afraid to be the woke person in your department. I know we get tired of educating. But in this space and time that we are in, I would rather educate someone than them doing something blindly.

A close mouth don’t get fat: there’s stories out there. You just have to do the work and don’t get lazy. Diversity isn’t just a trend and you need to keep this conversation going.

There’s a lane for everyone. You don’t have to take on this fight by yourself or always leading the charge. It’s not for everyone to be up in the front. You can always find ways to push the agenda forward. If we continue to recreate the wheel and not figure out what’s not working and build on this, it also pushes our agenda back.


Erica Blake, Community Director at Georgetown University & Founder of Black at PWI

Erica is a passionate student support professional who specializes in connecting with students through valuing interpersonal relationships. Black at PWI is a project very important to her as someone who has attended both a Primarily White Institution and a Historically Black College & University. She gets raw insight through dialogue in interviews sprinkled with advice, love, frustrations, confusion, and determination. Erica earned a B.A. in Psychology at Kean University and M.Ed in School Counseling from Bowie State University.

TaQuinda Johnson, Social Media Strategist at Eastern Michigan University

TaQuinda Johnson believes the field of public relations and social media is more than just an occupation, it’s a calling. With over 15 years of experience within the communications and public relations sector, TaQuinda is the Social Media Strategist at Eastern Michigan University. She is responsible for leading the charge for all social media efforts, while displaying the university’s culture online. She also serves as liaison between the Division of Communications and various colleges and departments ensuring key messaging and best practices are utilized across social media platforms. When she is not at EMU, the sought-after speaker is assisting faith-based organizations in displaying their ministry’s cultures online.

Jamila Walker, University Social Media Manager at Old Dominion University

Jamila has over ten years of experience in digital, public relations and marketing. She leads the institution’s social media program and works with different colleges, departments, faculty and students to identify the most effective way to disseminate key messages across digital platforms and tracks the success of those messages across multiple channels.


Pearson, Director of New Student Orientation and Transitions at University of Massachusetts Amherst

Pearson is the director of New Student Orientation and Transitions at UMass Amherst as well as a Ph.D. student in the Higher Education program in the College of Education. Prior to her new role, Pearson served as assistant director and program coordinator for New Student and Family Programs at Florida State University. Much of Pearson’s personal work is centered on the leadership development of undergraduate Orientation Leaders and family programming in addition to assisting with the coordination and logistics to implement a new virtual Orientation experience. Using innovative ways to engage incoming students, Pearson oversees strategic visioning and management of the New Student Orientation and Transitions.

About Josie, Community Founder

Dr. Josie Ahlquist is a digital engagement and leadership researcher, speaker, and consultant. She teaches teens, young adults, education professionals, and campus executives how to humanize technology tools and prioritize building community online.

Josie absolutely loves fostering and educating about digital community building. So, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she created a Facebook group called the Higher Ed Digital Community Builders, which has grown to nearly 2,000 members. She also created and manages the Digital Community Building Cohort, a mastermind educational program for higher education social media managers to improve online community building strategies.

As a researcher and writer, Josie is extensively published and maintains an active blog and podcast, which have received accolades from EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her new book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purposeful Social Media in a Connected World was listed as an Amazon #1 new release for college and university student life.

She also serves as a teaching faculty at Florida State University, creating curriculum to build digital literacy and leadership skills for undergraduates up to doctorate level students. Josie received her doctorate from California Lutheran University in Higher Education Leadership, Masters in Education from Northern Arizona University. She majored in sociology and human development at South Dakota State University.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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