Public relations for social change
Final year Business, Communication Arts and Graphic Design students discuss the role of public relations in social change.
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As LAU students head out into society, a world full of injustices awaits them. As such, final year students in the departments of Business, Communication Arts and Graphic Design attempted to prepare themselves to fight those wrongs, using their public relations skills as a weapon.
On May 27, the young PR gurus made presentations covering controversial issues in Lebanese politics to a room full of students, faculty and members of the community.
Their reports spanned hard-hitting and timely topics such as discrimination based on sexual orientation, violence against domestic workers, violence against women and cyber-bullying, among others, most of which were selected by the students themselves, said Public Relations Instructor Abir Chaaban.
“The concerns of the youth are the common concerns of everyone,” she announced at the outset of the event.
During a presentation about the weak representation of women in the Lebanese Parliament, some startling statistics were put forward. Namely, that of the 128 seats in Parliament, only four are held by women. A proposal put forward to adopt a quota of 33 percent female lawmakers has been repeatedly struck down.
Some audience members challenged the students, asking why they supported 33 and not 50 percent quota, or no quota at all, but the presenters swiftly retorted: “We want the quota as an introduction, a first step,” demonstrating their well-honed rebuttal skills.
For their presentation about discrimination against women in the penal code, students examined the letter of the law, citing article 522 whereby a man can absolve himself from punishment for raping a woman as long as he marries her within a certain period of time.
Using tactics such as social media campaigns, posters, TV spots, workshops, lobbying and academic conferences to get their message out, the goal of the campaigns was to instill change and while none of the projects were actually implemented, the exercise revealed the challenges of reversing the status quo, and prepared young activists for the arduous road ahead.
“It’s difficult to really achieve the legal amendments necessary for change,” said marketing and advertising student Luciana Younis. “Our community is not helping either as some Lebanese are very narrow-minded, but we’re trying, bit by bit, to sway public option.”
Aside from tackling weighty topics, students learned to work in a group, says Chabaan.
“There are some that are good at research, others at running around and others at making presentations. But distributing tasks amongst group members and formulating a coherent project is how organizations function, and they mastered that.”
Skills that will serve them well after graduation said third year marketing student Lina Srouji, who gave a powerful presentation on the deplorable living conditions in Roumieh prison.
“What I learned through this exercise was how to convince my audience, and who to target,” she said. “You cannot address audiences as a whole, people have different values and different perceptions, so you have to tailor your arguments.”