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Controlling the narrative at Howard University

January 31, 2023

Joanne R. Pluff

AVP of Student Experience, Howard University

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

In 2021 Howard University was faced with much adversity. The historic university weathered student protests, a campus data breach, and declining enrollment throughout the entire higher education landscape. My arrival at the University during the crisis revealed an opportunity. When asked to join the leadership cohort and research an issue, it was an easy answer to research how Howard University was portrayed in the media.

Over the course of a year, Howard University was headlined in both local and national news media outlets over a dozen times. Compared to local counterparts, the institution was highlighted negatively more times than local counterparts Georgetown and George Washington University. Local news media highlighted the student protests more than a dozen times over the course of a year. In times of crisis, it is important to control the narrative and communicate with key campus stakeholders to portray the accuracy of the status of the crisis. Unfortunately, we missed a step.

My capstone project is to unify all outgoing communication efforts. The ramifications for our illustrious university were low application numbers, angry campus stakeholders, and general unrest on the campus.

To bring all the forces together it was imperative to create a comprehensive communication plan to ensure that in both times of celebration and peril, the university can send out the appropriate messages to the right stakeholders. Working with all the strategic partners, I would like to ensure that there is cross-campus collaboration to communicate with the appropriate parties.

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Since the capstone project, I have collaborated with our VP for strategic planning to discuss the rollout of our new campus master plan and the Howard Forward initiative. Our rollout of this new partnership will include updating our admissions team, student ambassadors, and student callers with the strategic plan. It is our goal that all will be able to discuss the master plan when asked.

The capstone project was a great way for me to get acclimated to my new campus. The time spent outside of our Zoom sessions allowed me to discuss important campus topics. I truly enjoyed each segment of the capstone academy as it provided me the opportunity to speak with other practitioners in the field who could shed light on how other universities conduct day-to-day business.

See the fellows’ blogs from the capstone projects

Joanne R. Pluff and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2022

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