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Acknowledging Diversity: One Student’s Mission to Move Up & Forward

Black History MonthFor Black History month, OCPRSA is highlighting a Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) student from California State University, Fullerton (CSUF).

Charla Batey, MBA, OCPRSA president-elect and communications specialist for Cox Communications, interviewed Tonjanae Watson about her passion for PR, diversity, and inclusion, and how she is combining all three as she finishes up her college career.

Charla: Tell me about yourself and what attracted you to public relations (PR)?

Tonjanae: I came to college as a journalism major and immediately knew at my orientation that I did not want to be a journalist. I chose public relations out of the different concentrations within communications because the courses were relevant to my personal interests. Once I got involved in PRSSA, I fell in love because I knew I could do whatever I wanted. The field is so broad and versatile; there was no way I could be unhappy. It provided the perfect medium for me to utilize my skills while enjoying my greatest passions.

C: What does Black History Month mean to you?

T: Black History Month is a time of acknowledgement of where I came from and where I am in today’s society. This is a time of gratitude for those who are paving the way, for those who are building each other up, and for my strength to keep my head up despite all that I have to face. This is a time of support. Black people need to remember where we are going and do what we can to support each other, so we can break down the invisible walls that are keeping us down.

C: What has been your experience as a woman of color in this field of study?

T: Fortunately, I have had a good experience so far. I have not had a chance to meet or see many PR professionals in action. I met one prominent black PR powerhouse for the first time two years ago, and I’ve been raving about our relationship ever since. I was surprised to see how many black students showed up at PRSSA National Conference in 2018, and we’ve loosely stayed connected ever since. That has become a valuable asset to have nation-wide connections.

C: How are you moving the needle on diversity in PR?

T: I really don’t want young black pre-professionals to feel like they are the only ones. I have interviewed with and looked into several agencies – just to find that they are predominantly Caucasian and I found myself a little uncomfortable to apply. Most companies and Millennials today are focused on company culture, so familiar faces and great attitudes are really important.

I am planning a diversity and inclusion event to bring together black professionals with black students in Southern California in order to connect that community. No matter the opportunities that are presented now, these students will have people to turn to for advice, professional development, future opportunities, or a shoulder to lean on when needing to de-stress after a long day. I want everyone to walk out of the event with a newfound sense of self and pride for their identity. I want the students to leave with the proper tools to leverage their identity to take advantage of prime opportunities to make changes in their respective roles.

C: What’s the most valuable lesson a mentor has taught you?

T: You are always moving up or forward. Though there are ups and downs in life, and sometimes things may not seem like they are going right, everything is being used as a building block to get you to that right opportunity. You are not leveling down or going backward. You’re only ever moving forward. With that, I take every experience as a learning opportunity and assess everything more critically rather than allowing my emotions to get the best of me. I take note and know that I am gaining useful information to use in future situations.

C: What do you want working PR/communications practitioners to know about up-and-coming PR professionals?

T: The industry is rapidly changing. Everything is going digital, and the schools can’t change their curriculum fast enough. We are learning old, traditional methods with several skills leftover to learn on our own. There are several tools, frequently asked about in interviews, which are essential to our processes that students don’t have access to. It would be nice to have someone who can help advise on what is needed in the workforce or who is able to provide these tools. [For instance,] access to certain tools like Cision, which is cost prohibitive for students and the school won’t cover.

C: What’s your dream job?

T: I really like the idea of being an entrepreneur and serving clients who are serving the greater good – like helping the environment, or helping with public health and wellness.

Tonjanae welcomes LinkedIn connections and if you are a public relations professional who wishes to participate in her spring diversity and inclusion event, please contact her at tonjanae@csu.fullerton.edu.

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