National photography association best practices: students represented authentically in materials feel sense of belonging

When students see themselves represented authentically in college and university marketing materials, they view themselves as valued by that institution and have a sense of belonging.

That is among the conclusions in a position paper, "Best Practices for Inclusive and Diverse Photography," published by the University Photographers' Association of America, a professional association with a membership of more than 300.

Amanda Pitts, senior photographer for University Communications, is among the authors of the paper. Pitts said because images play a powerful role in university recruitment and marketing materials, UPAA authors included insight from people who work directly with underrepresented students or students of color.

professor leaning over to look at student's paper; two women students seated next to each other
Rebeca Castellanos, associate professor of Spanish, is pictured in a class. This image was among those within a best practices paper about diversity in photography.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts
rainbow flag in front of person at podium with microphone
UPAA suggests images contain a flag, pin, religious symbols to show multiple dimensions of identity.
Image credit - courtesy of Clay Stalter, University of Illinois-Springfield

"We are experts in photography, not in inclusion, diversity or equity," Pitts said. "But how we handle these things within our jobs can have a direct impact on how our institutions are perceived."

Sharalle Arnold, associate director of the Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity, said it's important to shift away from marketing photos of students of color in stereotypical environments such as Black male students pictured in sports settings.

"A photograph can disrupt stereotypes and make a person pause and think differently about someone," Arnold said. "It also supports a narrative that submits that we as Black women, for example, are not a monolith. We are deep, complex, multitalented, multifaceted and just as diverse as the skin tones that hug our bodies."

The position paper addresses photographing multiple dimensions of diversity, including sexual orientation, religion, mental health and disabilities. The authors suggested using subtle visual cues like flags, pins and religious symbols within an image.

Jen Hsu-Bishop, director of the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, said incorporating LGBTQIA+ visibility in marketing materials makes a statement to current and prospective students and a university's employees.

"It can help make clear that inclusion and equity is everyone’s work," Hsu-Bishop said. "It's important that students see themselves represented in our marketing and communications materials as they are, because who they are as real, whole people is wonderful and of value."

UPAA president Glenn Carpenter, from Moraine Valley (Ill.) Community College, said photography trends on campus have shifted toward photojournalistic styles, as former photojournalists leave media outlets for positions at colleges and universities. He hopes this paper underscores the commitment university photographers have when working to accomplish an institution's goals.

"Be real with your images. Your students will know when they visit if you were honest about diversity. If you were not, they may ask, 'What else was I mislead about,'" Carpenter said.


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