Human resources and employment relations student inspires change

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – . When Catrina Jones enrolled in the Master of Professional Studies program in human resources and employment relations offered via Penn State World Campus last year, she was not anticipating also playing an integral role in the updating of several chapters in one of her textbooks.

Catrina Jones, a master's student in the School of Labor and Employment Relations, has operated in a variety of human resources jobs since completing her undergraduate degree in sociology at Lehman College in New York. She currently works for ViacomCBS as a talent acquisition manager focusing primarily on legal, finance, and executive support roles. Credit: Catrina JonesAll Rights Reserved.

Jones – a human resources (HR) professional in talent acquisition with years of experience – explained there was a section in her textbook that highlighted different kinds of diversity hiring and spent time debunking stereotypes. The last section in the chapter focused on “recruiting minorities.” It was only a few paragraphs compared to the other sections, like recruiting women or people with disabilities, which were at least a page in length.

“Unlike the other sections, what was in those few paragraphs were the worst stereotypes stated as fact. To me, it felt like it was informing the reader – a future HR person – this is what you should really know about recruiting people of color,” she said.

Jones took her concerns to her instructor, Michael O’Neill, adjunct instructor in the School of Labor and Employment Relations (LER).

“Professor O’Neill was very sensitive and aware. There was a great, supportive response from the online team. He immediately posted an announcement on Canvas to flag it for other students and then sent it to the online program director, Antone Aboud. He then escalated it to the publisher who shared it with the author of the textbook.”

O’Neill lauded Jones’ actions.

“Catrina deserves a lot of credit for coming to us. I think that sort of thing should happen all the time. We understood the text from our point of view but hearing how it affected her was so much more powerful,” he said. 

Jones’ suggested changes included updating the term “minorities” to timelier and culturally appropriate terminologies like people of color or underrepresented communities. To update the content, she suggested encouraging readers to discuss the value of diversity with hiring managers, actively formulate recruitment plans to include underrepresented groups, recognize and address barriers that might prevent people of color from applying to jobs, and create more diverse recruiting materials, websites, and social media.

“To my delight, the author edited two sections in the book, not just what I pointed out,” Jones said. “That section is completely updated and is now over a page long with a discussion exercise attached to it. In the first chapter, he also added information to make it relevant to 2020 and beyond. These edits are live on the website and part of the digital textbook.”

Another School of LER professor reached out to say she would include information based on Jones’ suggestions in her forthcoming textbook. “It’s having a living, breathing ripple effect,” Jones said.

Jones hopes that her actions will continue to have positive effects on students and HR professionals.

“When you’re attending a great school and you’re given a textbook, you trust what you’re learning from. These stereotypes are wrong, but they are also so damaging not only to the communities of color but also to the individual who is exercising poor decision making. They’ve been taught something that’s not true and will potentially make decisions that can hurt others,” she said. “If there’s one less seed of ignorance or bias that has been planted – especially for someone who’s going to be working in human resources – there’ll be one less negative stereotype to reference in the long run.”

Last Updated April 15, 2021