UCLA Civil Rights Project

At a Glance: The Wakeman Agency was retained to provide media relations for the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles report on “New York State‘s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction and a Damaged Future.” The goal was to create awareness of this problem throughout the state, get people talking—and ultimately empower advocates to bring about change.  

The Wakeman Agency Turns the Media Spotlight on School Segregation in New York State

How do you create widespread media interest in a research study on education—especially one that challenges the general impression of diversity in the New York metro area? And how do you position the press announcement to ensure it sparks meaningful dialogue that leads to stakeholders seeking long-term solutions?

UCLA Civil Rights Project

A Stunning and Surprising Report that Might be Overlooked

UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) seeks to create a new generation of research on the critical issues of civil rights and equal opportunity for racial and ethnic groups in the United States. With more than 400 commissioned studies and 15 book publications, the organization has monitored the success of American schools in equalizing opportunity and is recognized as the authoritative source of segregation statistics. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its decision upholding affirmative action, cited the Civil Rights Project’s research.

Wakeman was engaged to launch a media relations campaign for a major CRP report on “New York State’s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction, and a Damaged Future.” This study explored trends in enrollment and school segregation patterns at the state and regional levels, including the New York City metropolitan areas.

The study’s conclusions were stunning. It found that in New York City, practices and policies perpetuated racial imbalance and educational inequity across schools. This resulted in educational problems linked to racially segregated schools, which are often intensified by poverty, a less-experienced and less-qualified teacher workforce, high levels of teacher turnover, inadequate facilities and learning materials, and high dropout rates. Conversely, desegregated schools were linked to profound benefits for all students, the study reported.

The Civil Rights Project leadership wanted to create awareness of this issue throughout New York State, get people talking and asking questions, and provide advocacy groups with data points to help them bring about changes. The challenge was to share the information with the public at large as well as stakeholders. The goal was to generate a dialogue that would lead to better policies and opportunities.

Media Coverage Illuminates the Issue and a Pathway to Change

Clearly, CRP is a highly esteemed organization whose research deserves attention. But serious scholarly research on education is generally not viewed as a “hot topic” by the mainstream media. CRP needed our expertise to get their message across to a wide audience beyond the traditional education press—and make a significant impact.

We crafted a tactical plan that focused on creating a big splash across a broad swatch of media: top-tier international, national, and regional outlets, along with the education and political press.

Cognizant of the importance of accessibility—and the crowded schedules of top journalists—we determined that producing a virtual press conference would maximize coverage. All invited media were provided with credentials to view a pre-recorded video that went live on the report’s release date, along with the access to a conference bridge for a Q&A with the report’s authors.

This strategy resulted in coverage in more than 70 media outlets, including the Associated Press and the Washington Post, with a concentration in the areas labeled as “hot spots” in the report.

The media coverage sparked dialogue among groups that both agreed and disagreed with the findings. The notable coverage of the New York study also led to interest in CRP commissioning reports on school segregation in other states, resulting in and seven further studies spanning East Coast schools.

The dialogue sparked by this study and the media coverage that Wakeman generated for the Civil Rights Project continues, as New York City currently debates changing middle and high school admission policies to increase diversity.