A year after being sent home mid-semester, members of Roxo, TCU’s student-run advertising and public relations agency, open up about the challenges and growth they have experienced and ultimately how creativity has the power to heal.
The impacts of COVID-19 have had a strong grip on the education system. In one year, students all over the nation quickly adapted to a new style of education, practiced flexibility in almost all areas of life, and did their best to find peace when it felt like there were no answers. In addition to being a student, Roxo members juggled the balance of school, self-care and continuing to provide high-quality work to clients.
Roxo has had a successful year. Members grew in their professional skills. Entering the communication industry, they had first-hand practice in crisis communication and assisting their clients during the early stages of the pandemic.
The agency learned how to use Slack, a business communication platform, to maintain consistent and clear communication while members were scattered throughout the nation. Following an intensive application, Roxo was selected to be nationally affiliated with the Public Relations Student Society of America. The agency earned three ADDY awards from the Fort Worth Chapter of the American Advertising Federation. Roxo had more students than ever apply to the agency and was able to take on another 11 clients this year.
But more importantly, members grew in their human skills.
The agency’s advisor, Sarah Angle, emphasizes the importance of empathy in public relations and advertising during the first class of every semester. This year, members especially put empathy into practice when working with each other and with clients. It is easy to acknowledge that someone is facing a difficult time, but it is something special when people take the time to sit in the fear and uncertainty with you.
At the beginning of the shutdown, no one knew when it would get better, but Roxo members knew they could simply be present for each other. Team leads and the executive team took intentional action both in the fall semester and the spring semester to make sure members were continuously checked-in on and provided with mental health resources.
“Last semester before each agency-wide meeting, our executive board would do a quick mental check where we would anonymously rate how we were feeling on a scale from 1 to 10, and then we would see where the majority of everyone was,” shared student agency member, Ashley German. “It was really comforting because it reminded me that even on my worst weeks, I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. It made me feel less alone. Our executive team continuously made sure it was clear we could reach out to them for help.”
Roxo celebrates the successes but also experienced first-hand that growth doesn’t come without struggle. This year was hard for the agency in the transition to being virtually run. In an industry built on relationship building and storytelling, members said it was intimidating to adapt to a new way of conducting business that would still produce the high quality of work that Roxo delivers.
Along with figuring out how Roxo would run, many students in the agency, and all over the nation, struggled with feelings of isolation, self-doubt, fear, lack of motivation, and increased anxiety during the pandemic.
“I have definitely noticed my anxiety has worsened since the onset of COVID-19. I finally got diagnosed this past January, which has helped me identify and name the emotions that I have been feeling,” shared Preston Harless, member of Roxo. “I get so consumed with the idea of feeling busy that it inhibits me from actually being productive. I can’t get out of my head. My boyfriend has been great about reminding me that I’ll always get it done, which helps me recenter myself.”
Harless isn’t alone. In a 2020 study, research found that out of the 195 college participants, 71 percent indicated that their stress and anxiety have increased due to COVID-19. Forty-four percent reported experiencing an increased level of depressive thoughts. Multiple stressors for students surrounding the pandemic were identified, including worries about their own health and the health of their loved ones, concerns about academic performance, difficulty concentrating, and decreased social interactions due to physical distancing. Motivation, concentration and social interaction are all crucial factors for students to succeed in the higher education environment and mental illness can greatly impact these factors.
Everyone wants to be strong, but Roxo learned from this pandemic that strength doesn’t mean trying to do everything on your own.
“Even though we have been a team for only a month and a half, I appreciate how intentional my account executive is with checking in on our team at the start and end of our meetings,” shared Harless. “I am not good at asking for help, so the fact that she emphasizes that reaching out is actually a sign of strength — not weakness — makes such a difference for me.”
It is easy for students to feel like COVID unfairly snatched too much of their livelihoods, but Roxo clings to the hope that creativity is not taken away in times of hardship.
Creativity aids in resilience. It helps people tell a story in a new way and shows shared human experiences and feelings. According to an article in Medical News Today, “Writing allows people to take negative situations that cannot be changed and integrate them into their life’s story, creating meaning for events that left indelible marks.”
Each semester, Roxo agency members set their vision on the agency’s tagline — “creativity for good.” As an agency that prides itself on providing creative designs, solutions and overall work, Roxo learned that creativity also has the power to heal. Using creative outlets, like journaling, yoga, drawing and photography, members found healthy ways to cope with anxiety.
“I did projects not only for school but also for myself, to help make sense of all the changes that happened when COVID first started. Photography has always been my main outlet for my creativity; it is almost cathartic in a sense,” said Matthew Suminther, photographer for Roxo. “So, for me, taking pictures, editing them and then releasing them publicly on my Instagram and seeing the feedback from my followers helped and motivated me to produce content amidst the struggles stemming from the pandemic.”
Over the year, the agency has had high, lows, hardships and growth. As a sense of normalcy starts to emerge, the agency is on a mission to use the healing nature of creativity to positively contribute to the Fort Worth community and emphasize the value that needs to be placed on mental health.
To take action, Roxo fundraised for The Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation, a local nonprofit focused on mental health, providing hope to those who are struggling in silence, and fulfilling its vision of a world where suicide is never the choice.
“As an agency comprised of students, we have struggled and we have seen our peers struggle,” shared German. “We are committed to taking steps, starting with fundraising for The Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation, and be a positive force and ally for the mental health of our peers in the higher education system.”