Supporting a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse CSD Community

When I was an undergraduate student and starting my search for SLP graduate programs, I had a few qualifiers:

  • a bilingual training component,
  • a multicultural emphasis,
  • funding opportunities, and
  • warm winters.

Why were these qualifiers important to me? Well, as a Spanish minor, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities practicing Spanish conversationally. My grammar and writing were decent, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to work with bilingual patients fluently at this rate … which was (and still is!) a long-term goal of mine.

As a Black woman, the statistics surrounding minoritized students in the public-school system—vast issues with functional illiteracy and marginalized students being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline—hit close to home. I wanted to be part of a graduate program that would allow me to more fully understand my potential role with these students as an SLP in the school system.

And honestly, after spending several years studying at Appalachian State University in the mountains of North Carolina, I much preferred looking at snow to hiking in it to get to class.

After applying to several programs across the country, I was accepted and enrolled at Arizona State University. I received funding through a faculty-run grant program, Preparing Intervention Specialists for Multilingual Multicultural Setting (PrISMS), which touched on all of my qualifiers. Through the program, I’d take electives focused on multilingual and multicultural aspects of our field and have opportunities to participate in bilingual clinic internships. It was perfect!

Cue Imposter Syndrome

That summer, one of my future peers started a Facebook group for our cohort—all 45 of us. Excited to see who my new classmates would be, I jumped online and started scrolling through their profiles. Before I knew it, I had reached the bottom of the list. “No, surely this isn’t everyone,” I thought. But it very nearly was … and sure enough, I was the only Black student enrolled in my cohort of 45.

And so came the flood of thoughts: Why am I the only one? Did any other Black students apply? Is it because the program’s in Arizona? And at the root of it all, am I going to feel socially and culturally isolated? I wondered why, even at a school with multiple programs and labs focused on multiculturalism, the incoming cohort seemed so homogeneous.

Speech-language pathology and audiology are not racially and ethnically diverse fields. Per ASHA’s 2018 Year-End Membership and Affiliation Counts, “8.2% of ASHA members, nonmember certificate holders, international affiliates, and associates are members of a racial minority (compared with 27.6% of the U.S. population, according to the 2010 Census), including 1.4% who have self-identified as multiracial (compared with 2.9% of the U.S. population). Additionally, 5.3% identified their ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino, compared with 16.3% of the U.S. population.”

But even before I read this report, I knew what these numbers would reflect, given similar demographics of my undergraduate cohort. However, I think somewhere in my excitement of researching grad programs with multicultural curricula, I forgot the very realistic possibility of being “the only one” again. As if on cue, a serious bout of Imposter Syndrome began … and continued through my first two semesters of grad school.

Kicking Imposter Syndrome to the Curb

Nearly a year into my grad program, 30 of the 45 students in my cohort (including me) elected to enroll in the course, Communication Disorders in Multicultural Populations, which studied “racial and ethnic biases and the communication behaviors and disorders in various cultural groups.”

I was excited, but also nervous . . . we’d finally be in a class that openly addressed the elephant in the room. This course, taught by the wonderful Dr. Jean Carolyn Brown, brought me validation and comfort. I felt fully seen and heard by my professor and my peers. We delved into race, culture, and ethnicity with help from textbooks and articles. But I’d argue the more important part of the course was gaining insight from every person in the room. We were encouraged and required to examine our own cultural her/histories and identities. My classmates demonstrated a willingness to listen with open hearts and engage in frequently uncomfortable discussions. This helped me find community and finally kick some of that Imposter Syndrome to the curb.

Realizing the impact this culturally-centered classroom dialogue had on myself and other classmates, I started connecting the dots. I was sick of feeling like an imposter and wanted these important conversations to continue outside of our one elective course. I wanted to create a community within our speech and hearing programs where students and faculty could connect, uplift each other, and engage in genuine dialogue around cultural and linguistic diversity on a regular basis.

Establishing the Speech and Hearing Science for Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Club

With the assistance of our faculty advisor (and my personal mentor), Maria Dixon, and two of my amazing peers, Nathaly Deane and Jennifer Philp, we established a new club on campus: Speech and Hearing Science for Cultural and Linguistic Diversity (SHS4CLD). 

This club has created an inclusive environment for culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) individuals within the speech and hearing department to promote the understanding and communication needs of our CLD population and the community served by audiologists, SLPs, and related professionals.

This brand-new club had our first official meeting this past November, and I’m excited to see how it grows this spring! We started off the semester with a “Welcome Back” cultural potluck in January—members were invited to share a dish or drink that was of cultural or familial importance to them. We’re looking forward to:

  • Organizing a cultural fair (similar to a career fair)
  • Having dialogues around related TedTalks
  • Inviting guest speakers from both the profession and previous students, patients, and/or family members
  • Doing advocacy work with the local refugee and immigrant populations in Arizona (sharing resources and learning from them how we can better serve them in our professions)

Tips to Start Your Own SHS4CLD Club

If you’re interested in starting a similar club on your campus, I have a few tips to get you started:

  • Select Your Clubs Leadership
    To establish a new club at your university, it’s likely you’ll be required to have a certain number of student leaders and faculty advisor listed for your e-board. Take advantage of this requirement! Find fellow students and a faculty advisor you trust, ideally those who share a passion for your club’s purpose. You’ll also most likely need to establish bylaws. Check with your university on specific requirements.
  • Take Advantage of Free Advertising to Increase Membership
    You likely receive countless emails from your university and department. Ask your faculty advisor how your club can include information in these messages. We wanted SHS4CLD to be a space where undergrads, grads, and faculty can connect over common interests and shared concerns. To make sure everyone knew about the club, we hung flyers around our departmental building, included info in emails to our program’s students and faculty, and asked our advisor to make an announcement at faculty meetings. You can also reach out to your local NSSLHA chapter and invite them to attend your meetings and collaborate on future events!
  • Leave Room for New Ideas
    When starting a new club, you get to set the tone, structure, and formality of the organization and meetings. For SHS4CLD, we decided on an open and informal group-led structure. Given that we’re starting a club for inclusion and diversity, we want everyone who joins to have ample opportunity to share their ideas and shape how the club exists. We’ve only had one official meeting so far, but by leaving the floor open to our members, we left that meeting with ideas for additions to our purpose statement, future guest speakers, cultural events, and community advocacy.

I hope that by creating more spaces that are intentionally dedicated to supporting culturally and linguistically diverse students in our fields, less of us will feel like imposters. I’m extremely grateful for the experiences in Jean’s class that contributed to my ability to break through my own Imposter Syndrome and develop this club. I look forward to continuing to learn and grow with the members of SHS4CLD as I complete my studies at Arizona State.

If you’d like to start a similar organization on your campus, but aren’t sure where to start, please email me—I’d love to help!

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