Writing Letters to the Editor
Even during a slow news time, it can be difficult to generate media coverage of diversity programs or projects, unless you have a strong news hook. When there is a lot of news, it can be close to impossible.
But when the public is intensely focused on an event or tragedy, such as the recent terrorist attacks on the United States and the attendant events, educators may have an opportunity to remind the community about the importance of and need for diversity education. One good way to get messages into the newspaper at any time, but particularly during a busy news times, is through the editorial pages. One of the least time-consuming ways to get included on those pages is with a letter-to-the-editor.
A letter-to-the-editor should focus on something related to the news of the day. The letter should have a unique perspective or be written by an expert whose credentials make it likely that a local newspaper will publish her or him. For instance, a letter-to-the-editor focusing on how diversity education can help build Arab-American relations in these difficult times would help to spread the message about the important role this kind of education can play in helping our nation cope during crises and build long-term understanding.
The Letter-to-the-Editor section is one of the most-read in any newspaper. People often overlook this section when conducting media outreach, but it can be a powerful resource. Many newspapers are anxious to receive letters about current events from members of the community, and they publish many of the stronger letters that they receive. They seek letters that offer a new perspective or approach an issue from a fresh angle, rather than echoing the comments of the spokespeople and experts who are already quoted in their articles.
To Submit a Letter-to-the-Editor
Check your local newspaper's "Letters-to-the-Editor" section or call the newspaper to find out where to mail, email or fax your letter. (Some newspapers prefer email to mail or fax, but others feel differently--so it is best to inquire about which is preferred.) Your colleague's or university's public information office may also be able to provide this information.
Draft a letter that is no more than 500 words long. Although some newspapers will accept longer letters, many will not. If your letter is compelling, but too long, the editor may cut it so that it fits into allotted space.
Be sure that your letter mentions an issue or event that has recently been covered by the newspaper; a letter about something in the news is more likely to get published. If you are writing in response to a particular article, note the title of the article and the date that it ran in your letter. Try to submit your letter within a day or two of publication of the article you are addressing. If you wait longer than that, be sure to check the Letters-to-the-Editor section to be sure that nothing too similar has already been published.
Write the letter using clear language that is free of jargon. You may want to ask a family member, friend, or colleague to read the letter to be sure that she or he finds it compelling and understandable. You can also ask someone in your campus public information office to review it.
At the end of your letter, be sure to include your title and affiliation (for instance, if you are a professor of Arab or Middle Eastern Studies, that would be extremely important to note), and a phone number at which you can be reached during the day. The newspaper will not publish your phone number, but editors will use it to verify that you did, indeed, submit the letter.
Keep a copy of your letter. You may need to resend it.
Most newspapers will call if if they plan to run your letter-to-the-editor, to alert you to its pending publication. However, some will not.
A few days after you have submitted your letter-to-the-editor, place a follow-up call to the Letters Editor to be sure she or he has received your submission and to see if the newspaper plans to use it. If the editor has not seen your letter, don't be discouraged. Offer to re-send it.
If your letter is rejected by one newspaper and there is another in your area, you should feel free to re-write your letter to make it more timely, and submit it to the second paper. Many community newspapers also accept letters-to-the-editor, and community newspapers often need submissions.
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"Engaged universities are powerful influences in reinvigorating the democratic spirit in America. These universities, in partnerships with their communities, are building blocks of democracy. Universities and colleges throughout the country see community engagement, public service, and civic responsibility as a common purpose of higher education ... An engaged university contributes simultaneously to an individual's 'private good' and a community's 'public good' by developing educational programs that are grounded in wide access, excellent curricula, and research of value to people and communities," Nancy Andes, Professor of sociology and interim director of the Center for Community Engagement & Learning at the University of Alaska Anchorage. ("Colleges Important to Democracy," Anchorage Daily News, 7 August 2001)
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"Wisconsin Working Women at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the Kansas University Sexism and Racism Victims Coalition are among the new organizations formed by women and minority men who have banded together to combat what they call negative and discriminatory work environments. Groups also have been founded at Stanford University, St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and at many other campuses. 'Discrimination at universities is absolutely a national problem,' said Patty McCabe, legal advocacy fund director of the American University Women in Washington, DC. ... 'The cases we have seen have run from Ivy League schools to community colleges ... The issue of discrimination has absolutely not been overcome. Harvard's full female roster, for example, is less than 9 percent ... until they try to move up in the ranks and then hit a glass ceiling, they don't realize that they were being discriminated against all along ... Fighting universities is a real David and Goliath battle for many women ... The institution has deep pockets, but many of the women have lost their jobs. We try and financially support women so they can have their day in court.'" ("Women, Minority Men Join to Fight Campus Job Bias," Women's Enews, 13 July 2001)
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"It's hard to believe that, 47 years after the epic court ruling overturning Plessy vs. Ferguson, the country would again find a reason to argue over the issue of separate but equal education. The recent congressional educational package includes little-noticed rules that shuttle homeless children out of public classrooms and into separate schools. Advocates for the homeless are fuming at the notion, which isolates children by their housing and poverty status and places them in 'transition' schools ... Under Senate bill S1, five homeless schools in California and one in Arizona get federal funds for offering segregated -- and substantially abbreviated -- educational opportunities to homeless children. Amendments exempt the schools from the 1954 federal law that explicitly prohibits school segregation ... Children shouldn't lose their educational rights simply because they have additional needs. Surely, it's wrong for these children to be denied public education because they're homeless." ("Homeless and Separate" Editorial, San Francisco Chronicle, 22 June 2001)
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Dr. Oscar H. Gandy, Jr. of the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania argues that, "putting computers and Internet access into the hands of disadvantaged minority and poor Americans falls short of addressing ... one barely recognized version of the digital divide in the United States ... What Gandy sees as an overarching problem with digital technology ... is the consumer-driven orientation it brings.' ... this is a framework that is increasingly oriented toward shaping and responding to people's interests as consumers, rather than to their interests as citizens and members of communities and social groups.' ... Gandy presented a wide-ranging talk about the menace that new digital technologies pose in fostering discrimination based on segmentation and targeting practices. He says that while redlining and other forms of discrimination are not new, ... new technologies, such as the Internet, have the potential to make the practices worse than ever before. '...segmentation and targeting are parts of a complex technological system, the purpose of which is to facilitate discrimination. ... The rates paid by advertisers for access to White as compared to minority broadcast audiences also reflect an important digital divide,' Gandy explained." ("Sounding the Alarm on Electronic Discrimination" Black Issues in Higher Education, 24 May 2001)
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"America's ninth-graders outscored their counterparts in 27 countries in their use of civic-related skills and scored above the international average in total civics knowledge, according to the National Center for Education Statistics recent report What Democracy Means to Ninth-Graders: U.S. Results From the International Civic Education Study (CivEd). The CivEd report measures knowledge and understanding of key civic principles that are universal across democracies. Among all 28 participating countries, U.S. ninth-graders scored above the international average on the total knowledge scale. 'This new assessment shows that U.S. students have acquired the basic concepts of what it means to live in a democracy and the rights and responsibilities of its citizens,' said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, 'It is an encouraging note for the citizens of tomorrow.'" ("U.S. Ninth-Graders Rank Among Top Scores on International Civic Education Assessment" United States Department of Education News, 27 April 2001)
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"Black freshmen enrollment at the University of Florida is expected to be down by nearly half this year under Gov. Jeb Bush's ban on racial preference in public university admissions. Blacks represented nearly 12% of the freshman class last year, but the class starting this month will be only 6% to 7% black, said officials at the state's most elite public university. 'This is disappointing,' said provost David Colburn, the school's chief academic officer. 'We were a segregated institution for a long time. And for a long time after that we were an almost lily-white institution.' ... Bush announced in 1999 his 'One Florida' plan to remove affirmative action from state agencies. Critics of the policy have warned it would lead to fewer minorities enrolling. Adora Obi Nweze, Florida's NAACP president, said the drop in minority admissions should concern all Floridians. 'At least before One Florida, there was some kind of remedy available ... it's not as if Jeb Bush is going to take any responsibility." ("Minority Enrollment to be Down at Univ. of Florida," USA Today, 12 August 2001)
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