Despite decades of outreach efforts from ASHA, “the demographic profile of the ASHA certified workforce is not reflective of the culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) residents of the United States” (Fannin & Mandulak, p. 1913). As ASHA members show a desire for increased representation in the professions, they also find themselves wondering what they can do to help.

Danai Kasambira Fannin and Kerry Callahan Mandulak are guest editors of a forum in the latest issue of the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology (AJSLP), titled “Increasing Diversity in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Workforce: Part 1.” The 12 articles in this forum provide clinicians, faculty, and management with “notions and data to guide those who want to transform our workforce into a more inclusive, clinically effective, and socially just entity” (Fannin & Mandulak, p. 1915).

Acknowledging a Problem

The forum opens with a tutorial by Ellis and Kendall, who contend that the history of racism in America has influenced higher education and, in turn, the communication sciences and disorders (CSD) professions. They also look at the barriers to discussing systemic racism in America.

Later, Ellis, Jacobs, and Kendall close the forum with a call to reconceptualize research in CSD in order to combat the forces of privilege, power, and positionality and seek a pathway to equity. “Changing the face of academia is an important first step toward changing society,” they write (p. 2037).

Recruiting and Supporting a Diverse Student Body

Of course, increasing diversity in the professions of audiology and speech-language pathology starts at the university level. Wong and colleagues share some important lessons from a CSD program that revised the graduate admissions review process in order to admit a more diverse population of students and meet the growing need for more culturally diverse professionals in CSD. Admissions were also a concern for Guiberson and Vigil, who found that universities that used some level of holistic admissions were more likely to include cultural competency in their programs.

Once more diverse students are admitted to CSD programs, it is then the responsibility of university faculty and personnel to ensure that these students are—and feel—supported. Abdelaziz and colleagues present survey results from more than 150 students in CSD about their experiences with microaggressions (which are brief, subtle, or unintentional insults or discrimination) in the classroom. Students described feelings of otherness, the impact of harmful generalizations being made about them, and maltreatment from faculty and peers.

To confront these feelings of otherness, Alicea and Johnson highlight an affinity group and mentorship program for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds at a university. Students say that the group increases their sense of belonging in the university and gives them a safe space in which to share ideas and experiences.

Facing Misconceptions

Two articles in the forum focus on linguistic biases—and the importance of confronting these biases both on the professional and the university level. Easton and Verdon found that less experienced speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and those with less professional development were more likely to diagnose nonstandard dialects of English as a “disorder” instead of accepting them as a difference.

Then, a survey by Hendricks, Watson-Wales, and Reed showed that although students in CSD programs reported positive associations with African American English (AAE), they later rated speakers of AAE lower across three categories of personal attributes. Both of these articles highlight the importance of further training when working with a client who speaks a dialect of English different from that spoken by the clinician.

Cultural Responsiveness and Social Justice

Finally, three articles in the forum explore additional topics in the CSD discipline. Daughrity examined the use of a brief, targeted video module to increase cultural competence skills in CSD students. Results show that this module, alongside repeated clinical experience, will promote cultural competency in students. Then, Hopf et al. present a practical, strengths-based framework designed to promote principles of evidence-based practice and social justice when working with people from nondominant cultural or linguistic groups.

What role does social justice play in the work of SLPs? Unger, DeBonis, and Amitrano asked SLPs that very question, finding that most respondents saw social justice as critical to the profession and felt that they were actively involved in promoting social justice principles.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

We’d like to thank Danai Fannin for her work putting together this forum, and her continuing work to bringing Part 2 of the forum to AJSLP next year (stay tuned!). We’d also like to thank the authors for breaching these sometimes difficult but always important topics.

You can read the entire forum here, or check out the individual articles below. We hope that this forum has caused you to reflect on the role that race plays in the professions of audiology and speech-language pathology—and how we can all contribute to building a more diverse workforce.

Explore the Forum

Abdelaziz, M. M., Matthews, J.-J., Campos, I., Fannin, D., Rivera Perez, J. F., Wilhite, M., & Williams, R. M. (2021). Student stories: Microaggressions in communication sciences and disorders. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 1990–2002.

Alicea, C. C. M., & Johnson, R. E. (2021). Creating community through affinity groups for minority students in communication sciences and disorders. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 2028–2031.

Daughrity, B. (2021). Exploring outcomes of an asynchronous learning module on increasing cultural competence for speech-language pathology graduate students. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 1940–1948.

Easton, C., & Verdon, S. (2021). The influence of linguistic bias upon speech-language pathologists’ attitudes toward clinical scenarios involving nonstandard dialects of English. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 1973–1989.

Ellis, C., Jacobs, M., & Kendall, D. (2021). The impact of racism, power, privilege, and positionality on communication sciences and disorders research: Time to reconceptualize and seek a pathway to equity. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 2032–2039.

Ellis, C., & Kendall, D. (2021). Time to act: Confronting systemic racism in communication sciences and disorders academic training programs. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 1916–1924.

Fannin, D. K., & Mandulak, K. C. (2021). Introduction to the Forum: Increasing Diversity in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Workforce, Part 1. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 1913–1915.

Guiberson, M., & Vigil, D. C. (2021). Admissions type and cultural competency in graduate speech-language pathology curricula: A national survey study. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 2017–2027.

Hendricks, A. E., Watson-Wales, M., & Reed, P. E. (2021). Perceptions of African American English by students in speech-language pathology programs. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 1962–1972.

Hopf, S. C., Crowe, K., Verdon, S., Blake, H. L., & McLeod, S. (2021). Advancing workplace diversity through the Culturally Responsive Teamwork Framework. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 1949–1961.

Unger, J. P., DeBonis, D. A., & Amitrano, A. R. (2021). A preliminary investigation of social justice perceptions among U.S. speech-language pathologists: Clinical implications. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 2003–2016.

Wong, A. A., Marrone, N. L., Fabiano-Smith, L., Beeson, P. M., Franco, M. A., Subbian, V., & Lozano, G. I. (2021). Engaging faculty in shifting toward holistic review: Changing graduate admissions procedures at a land-grant, Hispanic-serving institution. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 30(5), 1925–1939.