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Life lessons: How an on-campus demonstration inspired a PR class discussion

October 11, 2012

A few minutes before my evening “PR Writing” class on April 30, I walked across the University of Houston (UH) campus to pick up a cup of fancy coffee per my routine.  The character in this photo was standing on one of the busy walkways. He had a small crowd of students around him arguing vigorously. When you read his sign, you can imagine the spirited dialogue.

I stood there listening for a while, and then took a photo of him with my smartphone and walked to the classroom — elated. Why? One of my goals during the 10 years I’ve taught public relations at UH has been to open each class with some event — news, pop culture, etc. — that has a real-world tie-in to the topic of the class. I always try to bring textbook learning vs. reality/relevance to the students.

What was taking place with the sandwich board guy ticked several boxes: freedom of speech, right to assemble, controversial subjects, face-to-face dissent and more.  All of this was a great way to start a communications class and get students debating while I mediated. I recognized two of the students in the crowd as being from my class, so naturally, I called on them to get the conversation under way. It was lively and interesting.

I reminded the students that back in the day, protesters on the campus where I went to college primarily demonstrated against Vietnam as well as a few social issues. I even wrote articles about the protesters while I was a reporter for my college newspaper. No blogging, no viral videos — just people going at it face-to-face.

It’s ironic how in this high-tech world we live in, with the wave of digital media, that the demonstration on the UH campus was a throwback to earlier, low-tech times: a guy with a sandwich board.  The medium wasn’t the message; the message was the message.

I love my teaching job.

David B. McKinney David B. McKinney is a lecturer, School of Communications, University of Houston. He retired as the senior manager of communications, Shell Oil Co.


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