I hope to bring to your attention to some multicultural issues that exist within the speech language pathologist membership demographic of the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), provide you with information on programs available to all ASHA members, and share ways you can become more involved in your community. However, before I delve into the topic, I would like to provide you with background information as to how I became involved in advocating for and supporting the creation of policies that benefit culturally and linguistically diverse underserved and underrepresented populations and guide clinical practice.
Importance of Shared Language and Culture
My parents, who emigrated from Mexico, seemed to always have an interpreter available to them whenever they visited a doctor’s office, a school, or business. Growing up in southern California, I never really thought much about how fortunate we were to live in a community that shared our home language and cultural heritage. However my perspective changed when prior to becoming a speech language pathologist (SLP), I worked for seven years as an interpreter and parent liaison for the Nottoway Regional Virginia Migrant Education Program in rural Virginia. I had the opportunity to work with four county school districts where English language learners made up less than 3% of the student population. Much of the immigrant population had recently arrived to the USA, and there were very few interpreters in this part of the state. The migrant farm workers travelled up and down the East Coast with their families. Whenever an immigrant or migrant family arrived at a school to enroll, I was contacted to provide interpretation and translation services. I also provided interpretation/translation services at IEP meetings, evaluations, parent/teacher meetings, and district level meetings. I was the only school employed language and cultural broker between the school districts and the immigrant community. These experiences in Virginia helped me to fully understand the challenges that individuals from diverse cultural, socioeconomic, and language backgrounds experience when they seek services from providers that do not speak their language and/or share their culture. In the tomato and tobacco fields of Virginia, the seed to become a bilingual SLP was planted.
Now that you have some background information, I will now highlight the need for increased diversity in our field. The US Census Bureau National Projections (2014) predicts that by 2044, minorities will constitute a per capita “majority” in the United States. By the time of the 2020 Census, it is predicted that more than half of all children in the united States will be a part of a minority race or ethnic group. By 2060, 19 percent of the population is foreign-born, up from 13 percent in 2014. The number of English language learners (ELLs) in public schools is nearing 5 million. I’d like to pose a question, how many languages do the 5 million ELLs speak?
Discrepancy Between US and ASHA Demographics
Now I will compare the demographics of the United States with those of ASHA membership to bring attention to the discrepancy between demographics. According to the 2010 Census, 27.6 percent of the US population is a member of a racial minority and 22 percent of students ages 5-17 in the schools speak a language other than English at home. 21 percent of the population over 5 years old speaks another language other than English at home . Males comprise 49.1 percent of the population. Meanwhile, ASHA Membership and Affiliation Counts Year-End 2016 report that 7.9 percent of members are of a racial minority, 5 percent of members identify their ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino, 7 percent identify as bilingual service providers, and males currently comprise 3.7 percent of SLPs.
Barriers to Diversity
During my graduate studies in communication sciences and disorders, I had the opportunity to participate in ASHA’s Minority Student Leadership Program (MSLP) class of 2015. Throughout the five-day program, we attended leadership workshops that taught us the values, practices, and roles of great leaders. The highlight of the program was meeting with the elect, current, and immediate past ASHA presidents. We also observed ASHA leadership at work in the Continuing Education Board, and their decision-making process. Interspersed in our hectic schedules were opportunities to visit the ASHA convention
This five-day program was a uniquely magical and transformational experience that helped me to further realize the scope and magnitude of the career I embarked upon and the need to be involved in advocating for culturally and linguistically diverse issues. Our cohort of 40 was highly encouraged by ASHA to become involved in our state and national speech and hearing organizations and to this day we continue to network and support each other through social media and meetings at conventions. I along with several members of our cohort developed a presentation to share with our university programs about our experiences at MSLP. We came to the conclusion that MSLP is not an affirmative action program, but its purpose is to give access to individuals who may not otherwise have the opportunity. The program helped us to visualize access along the career trajectory, such as the time a student begins thinking about careers. Those who are not aware of the field of SLP or do not see themselves in that career due to exposure to professionals who do not share their cultural background or look like them are less likely to pursue this degree. In addition, there is the issue of the financial commitment required to become an SLP. You have to complete undergraduate studies, apply for graduate school, and then complete your degree program. This is a huge investment of time and money and would be difficult for individuals who have to independently support themselves or support other members of their family. Lastly, a reason why we might not have as many bilingual providers may be due to applicants being discouraged by graduate programs from pursuing a career in SLP due to having a heavy foreign accent in English.
Several ways to improve the retention of students from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) groups are to encourage a commitment from college or university administration for scholarships, tuition waivers, graduate assistantships, and financial packages. Additional ways to facilitate retention would be to provide writing center assistance, tutoring sessions, and support groups to further student success. For change to materialize, individuals at every level of the continuum need to be involved and aware of the barriers.
What Can You Do Within ASHA?
There are several ways to become involved within ASHA in order to support the recruitment of culturally and linguistically diverse SLPs and to support policies that benefit culturally and linguistically diverse populations we serve. I highly encourage you to vote, as only approximately five percent of the ASHA membership votes in elections. Raise issues at the membership forum at the national convention. If you are an undergraduate or graduate student, apply for the Student to Empowered Professional Mentoring Program (S.T.E.P.) and the Minority Student Leadership Program (MSLP). Join a Special Interest Group such as SIG 14: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity and/or SIG 17: Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders. If you are a practicing clinician, apply to be a S.T.E.P mentor, apply for the Leadership Development Program, and apply to serve on an ASHA Committee/Board.
What can you do at your workplace and in your community?
There are several ways to support the recruitment of culturally and linguistically diverse SLPs in your workplace and community. I highly encourage you to participate in community events, mentor students from minority backgrounds, and encourage a greater awareness and understanding of multicultural issues in your own workplace and community.
I would love to hear your comments, thoughts, questions, and/or concerns. Send an email to: email@example.com.
Application for Committees or Board Positions: http://www.asha.org/About/governance/committees/
ASHA Annual Nominations and Elections: http://www.asha.org/about/governance/election/
Cultural Competence: http://www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Professional-Issues/Cultural-Competence/
Minority Student Leadership Program: http://www.asha.org/Students/MSLP-Award/
Special Interest Groups (SIG): http://www.asha.org/SIG/Join/
S.T.E.P. – Student to Empowered Professional Mentoring Program: http://www.asha.org/students/gatheringplace/step/