As director of communications and engagement at Evanston Township High School (ETHS) in Illinois, Evangeline Semark (CMN MA ’14) proudly touts the equity focus of this learning community. Ranked in the top 1–2 percent of all U.S. high schools, ETHS educates more than 3,300 youth from every neighborhood in Evanston, Ill., representing many racial and ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic statuses. The high rate of student success at ETHS is attributable, in part, to the conversations between students and staff about racial equity and building an environment that affirms all perspectives and identities.
This approach suits Semark perfectly. “I lead the public relations and communication efforts to help create a more culturally responsive learning community for our students,” Semark says. “My goal is to provide our students and families with the information they need to be inspired to learn.”
Semark believes her role stretches beyond the typical duties of a public relations practitioner. “Whether it’s to invite families to learn more about the school, facilitate workshops to discuss issues of racial equity or teach freshmen about their ‘online tattoos’ via media literacy programming, I position myself as an educator,” she says. “I continuously create opportunities to empower others.”
A former graphic designer with a passion for community-based work and social justice, Semark wanted to “understand the human factors, communication patterns and cultural contexts behind the designs. The communication field is inherently interdisciplinary and provides those who are interested with many avenues for expansion.” After working in the field for several years, Semark decided to pursue a graduate degree at DePaul in organizational and multicultural communication.
“My graduate studies gave me the critical framework to interrogate ideological systems of power such as racism, classism, ableism and heterosexism,” Semark says. “I was encouraged to stretch my learning, to question what was known and to imagine possibilities of resistance and change.”
Semark says as a white cisgender woman working in education, she finds that one of her biggest challenges is continuously examining her role in perpetuating the systems of oppression that create the stories of who is valued and why. During her time at ETHS, she has spearheaded removing gender pronouns in communications, helped create events that expand beyond the able-bodied experience and worked to ensure that the majority of the student body—youth of color—are highly visible and accurately represented in marketing materials.
Semark encourages others to use their talents to disrupt all forms of bias. “As public relations professionals, we are uniquely positioned to help shape how someone or something is viewed in the public realm,” she says. “We have the opportunity to recenter the communities we serve professionally through a social justice framework.”
Originally published in Conversations (Winter 2016 Issue)