New PRSSA affinity groups enhance inclusion and belonging

The Syracuse University chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (SUPRSSA) has launched affinity groups in cooperation with the Public Relations Society of America Northeast District.

As the first chapter in the country to offer this opportunity, SUPRSSA is piloting a program that is designed to enhance inclusion and belonging during the college experience and in the industry. The affinity group model is a component of PRSA, the national professional public relations trade organization.

Kelly Gaggin
Kelly Gaggin

“Students are seeking opportunities to gather and discuss public relations and communications within the context of their identities and to educate others,” says Kelly Gaggin, assistant teaching professor of public relations and faculty advisor for SUPRSSA.  “As chair for the Northeast District [PRSA], my platform is to put our words into action when it comes to IDEA concepts at the regional level, and to enhance engagement of PRSSA chapters. I saw an excellent opportunity to provide students with much needed space and to bring the support of national organizations to the effort.”

Gaggin leveraged her roles as chair for the PRSA Northeast District, member of PRSA’s national Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee and a longtime advisor for regional PRSSA chapters to facilitate the collaboration and launch of the program, which she designed in alignment with PRSA’s strategic plan.

The Affinity Group pilot includes three pillars:

Professional Development: Gain additional knowledge and necessary skills to maximize opportunities for success in the industry.

Connections: Build relationships with one another and professionals in the industry, whether alumni or others, to provide support, insight and opportunity.

Education: Engage in a balanced exchange of ideas and educate one another about unique experiences and identities.

“When Dr. Gaggin approached me about this program I was immediately excited about it,” says Kiana Khoshnoud, senior public relations major and SUPRSSA vice president for inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. “We’re thrilled to pilot this initiative and to be a part of something that has the capacity to positively impact thousands of students as they follow their path through college and eventually the professional world.”

The introduction of affinity groups for students provides a myriad of benefits to students and the industry.

“This model provides students with a space to explore their identities with their peers and within the context of their education and their future as professionals in the public relations and communications industries,” says Gaggin. “I’m confident that providing spaces for these conversations will have a positive impact on increasing representation and inclusion in public relations and communications programs and in the profession.”

SUPRSSA affinity groups currently include: Asian Voices,  Black Voices, Hispanic and LatinX Voices, LGBTQ Voices and International Student Voices, but Gaggin says there is room to grow.

“The Affinity Groups are student-driven in terms of programming and participation. If there are students seeking out the formation of another group then that is definitely something we want to see happen. It’s about creating spaces, fostering conversation and nurturing the unique aspects within our identities.”

SUPRSSA welcomes students from all communications majors to be active in the affinity group(s) of their choosing.

“Regardless of major, Newhouse students are communications professionals and many topics like workplace dynamics and networking are common across the board so we believe that any communications major should have the opportunity to benefit from the initiative,” Khoshnoud says.

Gaggin agrees and notes that the more casual and flexible nature of the affinity groups presents a unique opportunity for all majors to connect and learn from one another. She also anticipates that as the students connect with one another and industry pros, faculty will have an opportunity to enhance their understanding of students’ needs and desires when developing IDEA-focused content and conversation.

“We are human. We don’t know what we don’t know. I envision these students crafting programming and engaging in conversations that can help all of us better understand how we as faculty can support their journey and education in meaningful ways.”

To learn more about SUPRSSA’s Affinity Groups or to join, contact Gaggin at