Jon Boroshok

College Instructor, PR/Marketing Comm. Specialist, and Journalist

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Transgressions, Confessions, and Microaggressions

This post originally appeared in the August 2019 edition of AAC&U News.


AAC&U News, August 2019

Transgressions, Confessions, and Microaggressions: Impressions of the AAC&U 2019 Diversity, Equity, and Student Success Conference


By Jon Boroshok, Communication Instructor at Southern New Hampshire University 


Since we both have advanced degrees and invested in college savings plans, my wife and I always assumed our children would receive a higher education. As a professor, I realize how fortunate or, yes, privileged we’ve been.

I teach a “Rock and Roll Edition” of Visual Communication and Media Literacy on campus at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). One of our topics looks at suburban parents’ reactions to rock music in the 1950s compared to parents’ reactions to rap and hip-hop today. While it’s not quite Drake vs. Elvis, we see similar misunderstandings, fears, and prejudices. It’s a great discussion topic full of teachable moments and even more opportunities for me to get into trouble.

Maybe I’m one of today’s parents. The elephant in the room isn’t just my “Dad Bod,” it’s my demographic. As a white, fifty-something male, I don’t check many diversity boxes, but I want to be sensitive to topics that do. While discussing soul, I’d like to keep the sole of my shoe out of my mouth.

As a starting point for learning more about how to discuss race and inequalities in the classroom, I enrolled in the White Ally Tool Kit course at SNHU.

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Photo: Participants at AAC&U’s 2019 Diversity, Equity, and Student Success Conference.

Next, thanks to a grant from our President’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (PODI), I attended AAC&U’s Diversity, Equity, and Student Success Conference in Pittsburgh in March 2019. From the many great sessions, I learned valuable lessons to bring back to SNHU.

Just like our students, faculty need to get out of their comfort zones. The first thing I noticed at the conference was how few people looked like me. Is this what every day feels like for some of my students? At least it was by choice for me. I could always walk away.

SNHU does many of the right things already, including following a formal diversity, equity, and inclusion plan. Much of the conference focused on creating inclusive campuses, and I realized that our problem isn’t serving our diverse student population—it’s getting professors (like me) to recognize the diversity in front of us.

There are many faces of diversity. One panel session at the conference, “Fostering a Culture of Student Success Grounded in Equity and Identity Consciousness,” taught us that diversity does not only include people of color or LGBTQ+ identities. There are also ethnic and economic differences as well as challenges faced by first-year students. There are mental health issues, veterans, and food-insecure students. We’re more diverse than I understood.

Look at all of a student’s identities, not just one demographic. Schools and their faculty need to be “identity conscious.” Jason Rivera, chancellor for student academic success at Rutgers University, implored us to know campus metrics such as the percentage of our students that are Pell Grant eligible. Have SNHU’s demographics changed in recent years while my assumptions and practices have not?

I have microaggressed. It wasn’t intentional—it was a combination of ignorance and insensitivity. In “Examining Microaggressions for Engaged Inclusivity,” conducted by Claudia Leiras and Alisha Davis (both of Grand Valley State University), I heard stories of how stereotyping and generalizing can influence interaction between faculty and students. I wondered how many offenses I committed. I’ve certainly made comments that have “othered” people.

People are oppressed and stressed by assumptions, impacting how they perform academically and how they engage socially. SNHU’s data shows us how students who are more involved on campus are happier, perform better, and learn more. But if they don’t feel welcomed and safe, how can we expect them to get involved? We need to be proactive and inclusive.

I need to use more gender-neutral, inclusive language in class. As a communications professional, changing messages should come naturally. I added my preferred personal pronouns to my email signature and syllabi. It wasn’t about me—it was to send a subtle message of acceptance to my students. I’ve always made my students sign the last page of the syllabus. Now that page also asks them what their preferred name is, and that’s what I call them and use on the sign-in sheet. It’s a matter of showing respect for our differences. I’m going to make mistakes—I still struggle grammatically with the singular “they” and using norms and defaults like heterosexuality and middle class. I tell my students that I’m a work in progress and that they should feel free to correct me or call me out (my family already does). They appreciate that.

Another aspect of diversity is welcoming all opinions and fostering civil discourse.One casualty of our newfound sensitivity and awareness is that some less-progressive opinions seem to be stifled rather than discussed. As Alisha Davis of Grand Valley State University explained, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” There’s a risk of some people feeling censored. That may lead to backlash against diversity and proliferation of a bigoted narrative in the media and online. All opinions must be heard if they are expressed civilly.

Diversity must extend to all levels of the institution. Bonding with a few colleagues in the evenings after the sessions, I learned of their own diversity struggles as faculty and staff members, including feeling like a token faculty member or not being fully supported by colleagues.

Creating inclusivity, diversity, and equity is challenging. It’s not going to happen overnight. It might not even happen during my career. I don’t have the solution, but I’m determined to not be part of the problem.

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The Case For Mandatory Attendance And Class Participation


We often hear students complaining that professors treat them like children by requiring attendance and/or class participation. “This isn’t high school” is the standard argument. It’s true, they’re not kids anymore, but here’s the reality: demanding participation and attendance is actually treating them like a member of the work force.

Nobody wants a class that’s all lecture, so I’ve made class participation worth 25-30% of the grade in most of my classes. My policy is based on 20 years of business, PR/marketing communications, and journalism experience. I teach from the trenches – it’s about what’s happening in today’s competitive business environment. I’ll trust my more academic colleagues support my war stories with scholarly research.

My job is helping my customers/investors – my students – develop the skills, mindset, ability to learn, and work ethic demanded by employers. Requiring class participation and attendance is treating them as adults, and holds them responsible for contributing like one. I expect them to ask and answer questions – show they’re prepared by getting involved.

In business, you can’t blow off a day of work and get the notes from a colleague. Employees are expected to show up for work (on time) and make a proactive, value-added contribution. If they’re going to miss work (or class), they tell the boss before, not the day after they failed to show up.

On most jobs people accrue 10-15 vacation/personal days per year, but many companies won’t let employees take one during the first three to six months.

At school, each class session makes up about 4% of our total meetings for the semester. Miss three sessions of a class and that’s about 12% of the job not done. No employer allows that – you’d be fired even in a good economy. You can’t show up for work only 90% of the time and expect to stay employed.

I give students two “personal” days off. They can use them as sick days, for athletics, vacation days, (they can even feel too healthy to come to class!)… almost anything goes! They simply have to notify me at least an hour in advance – as long as the syllabus doesn’t say “no excused absences” for that particular class session. For each unexcused absence, I will deduct four points from their course grade.

As with a job or sports, students are part of a team in class, and are expected to pull their weight to help make the class lively and interesting. Here’s a business world truth: Unless you appear to produce more in value than you cost the company (salary, benefits, team moral, etc.), why would your employer keep you on the payroll?

Participation means proactively starting and making value-added contributions to discussions. Sitting in class and taking notes isn’t participating. I teach communications courses – I expect students to communicate. Employees who just show up at a meeting, stare at their phones/laptops, and take up space are not going to stay around for long.

Like work contributions, class participation is competitive – it’s about quantity and quality, so participate early (first mover advantage) and often. Just as they’d compete for raises and promotions on a job, they’re competing for grades in class. That’s part of getting then ready for life outside of academia.

Students should never fear speaking up. It’s my responsibility to make sure that the opinions expressed, and questions asked, are always treated with respect, particularly when it challenges conventional thinking or especially my own beliefs. Students need to be comfortable making mistakes here in an educational environment, so they won’t make them in the unforgiving business world. Participate. Be there. Be here.


Starting Your PR Career: Is NYC The Only Place?

Question/discussion topic:

NYCIn September 2011, I made the transition from full-time PR practitioner to full-time professor at a small, New England private university. This was after 20 years of agency and client-side experience, including the obligatory stint at a New York agency. I still pride myself on being a Jersey Guy, although I wonder why I was crazy enough to deal with that commute.

One of the joys/challenges of being a professor and academic adviser is counseling students as they make the transition to young professionals. I’ve come across many from New England that seem destined to live up to the regional stereotype of never moving/living more than about 20 minutes from the town they grew up in. For many, that means in Boston’s New Hampshire suburbs.

Boston’s a great “town,” but doesn’t spending the first five years of yourBoston career in the Boston ‘burbs limit you? A New Hampshire salary will certainly start you out with a deficit compared to Boston. Despite being talented and personable, some of my students from New Hampshire consider Boston a big city.

That seems in direct “conflict” with my advice and observations about the PR industry that one really needs a New York City agency on their resume as early as possible in order to open up more career doors.

The anecdotal observation I have is that if you’ve worked for a New York firm, you’re capable of working anywhere. Without the NYC firm, you’re just small potatoes. I think there’s some geographic snobbery in our industry, but it does exist right or wrong.

It’s that not a NYC agency does any better work – it’s just perception. I always ask clients that want a “downtown” agency whether they’re paying for results or the view from the conference room.

This may also be similar to the career mobility question of going to a small company vs. big brand name corporation early on. Sure, getting major media coverage is easy working for a company like Apple (low hanging fruit – pun intended), while at a small company you can make a big difference and learn so much more. But the big name on your resume still impresses people more – and will sell you into more jobs.

What do you think?

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My World Gets Rocked

TracksFifteen years ago today (November 10, 1998), Bruce Springsteen released a four-CD box set called Tracks. As a Jersey boy and diehard Springsteen fan, I had waited for months through rumors and the eventual announcement of the long anticipated package. It was scheduled to arrive just weeks before another anticipated package – my first child. The baby’s “release date” was expected to be about December 2.

On the morning of November 10, I sneaked out of work for short morning break and got to Tower Records in Burlington, MA  just as it opened. I grabbed my copy of Tracks, and zipped back to the office. Between calls and meetings, I had a disc or two playing in the background. No time to pour over the 50+ pages of background, photos, and lyrics — the closest I ever get to classic literature.

Heading home that night, I called CarenJB Steph early Dec 1998 to see what I should pick up for dinner. We agreed on Boston Market (I think it was still Boston Chicken back then). Less than an hour after leaving work, I walked in the front door carrying dinner, looking forward to a rockin’ night. “Don’t serve dinner, my water just broke,” was how Caren greeted me at the door.

So three weeks early, off we went to Emerson Hospital, In the wee hours of Wednesday, November 11, Stephanie was born. Why the big rush, Steph? It’s already a holiday (Veterans Day). I’d like to think she was in a hurry to listen to Tracks with me. She constantly reminds me it was to stop me from being able to listen to it. To this day, any time a song from it comes it, I make Steph hear this story. It’s just one of the many annoying and embarrassing things you get to do once you’re a Dad.

So I got my world rocked – just not in the way I expected it.  Now with only 366 days until she can drive, Stephanie is about to do it again. At least the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) has the decency to be closed on her birthday.Steph Cozy Car