In “Courageous Conversations About Race,” author Glenn Singleton notes there should always be four agreements when having group conversations about social justice issues:
- Staying engaged
- Experiencing discomfort
- Speaking your truth
- Expect/accept non-closure
Such expectations are easier said than done, but National NSSHLA’S Raw Conversations: Be the Change You Want to See was a great opportunity to practice these agreements with fellow CSD students from across the country. We collectively discussed how we would address issues around microaggressions, implicit biases, and discrimination within CSD that can, will, and have happened before. It was not a solution, but rather that start of restoration that’s needed in our field.
During small-group conversations facilitated by current CSD professionals, we talked about what we’d do when faced with specific scenarios related to microaggressions, implicit biases, and discrimination.
For some of us, it was the first time meeting each other. For others, it was the first time having such a conversation. Talking to strangers can be challenging, and it’s especially challenging when discussing issues of social justice, which can trigger a fight-or-flight response if they become too much to handle.
This is why these kinds of conversations are more successful when done in small break-out groups because it allows us to stay engaged. More than 200 students attended this Raw Conversations event, but each breakout room had 20-25 participants for the small group discussions. These small groups allowed us to build a sense of “psychological safety” quicker. Once we broke the ice, we disclosed our ideas, thoughts, and feelings more easily.
The small groups also created a space were many of us were able to activate our Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) around these issues. Saul McLeod describes ZPD as “…the difference between what a learner can do without help and what [they] can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner.” In other words, it’s our area for growth.
By having an intimate conversation with students who brought many experiences to the table, we were able to bounce perspective, challenge our thinking, and brainstorm potential solutions around these issues. I know I was able to do this thanks to my colleagues whose perspective prompted me to think of additional ways to address the issues we discussed—some of which I hadn’t thought of before such as:
- Using the updated ASHA Code of Ethics as a reference tool when addressing discrimination
- Finding ways to build community and support with students, student groups, and other organizations that are leading equity work
- Sharing knowledge of ASHA-sponsored resources like the STEP mentoring program
- Re-assessing clients when we don’t understand something about their sociolinguistic background and/or idiosyncrasies that are tied to their cultural/ethnic background
The scenarios we discussed in this conversation were definitely uncomfortable. As a Brown Latinx undergraduate SLP student, some of the scenarios felt all too real—having experienced some first-hand, such as Scenario 3. While these scenarios don’t capture all of the discrimination that students, clinicians, and clients from minoritized backgrounds experience in our field, it’s a great introduction for those who may not have experienced them before. The truth of the matter is that this has happened, and it still is happening. We cannot remain silent. The only way to build the courage to tackle these issues is by accepting the truth of others and using that as precedence to plan our healing and change.
Speaking My Truth
Despite feeling triggered, I decided to speak my truth. This was made possible thanks to the intimacy of my small group and to the facilitator who listened whole-heartedly about my experiences. When minoritized people talk about instances where they have been victims of implicit bias, discrimination, or any other form of prejudice, we’re often conditioned to “suck it up.” Too often, we’re told to brush it under the rug, remain silent, and move on. Historically, this apathy has been seen as a form of entry into White spaces like CSD.
However, thanks to my personal growth, learning, and support from family and friends (like my STEP mentor, Iván Campos) I’ve learned that silence isn’t an option.
During this Raw Conversation, we shared our first-hand experiences that related to the scenarios presented to us—progressing the conversation. It was validating to hear that I wasn’t the only one who has had these kinds of experiences. Together, our experiences contextualized the reality of the scenarios—especially for students who come from the dominant culture or other privileged backgrounds who may not have noticed this before.
Speaking our truths also created a space for healing, as I learned a lot from my fellow colleagues about how to address these issues. As I came to realize, issues of discrimination are not unique to any institution, city, state, or region of the USA. Students in my group were from all of the country and my hope is that our collective truths highlight the need for change and healing in our field.
Nevertheless, finding a solution for some of the scenarios wasn’t easy and at times, we had to accept non-closure. This wasn’t the end of the conversation, but rather, a call-to-action to continue our learning about these issues elsewhere. It was a reminder that learning how to develop the competency to address these issues is a journey, not a one-off technical solution.
In this day and age, easy technical solutions are alluring but they cannot erase the centuries of damage that have been done to minoritized communities. If we want sustainable and systemic change, then we all need to embark on the long journey for equity and justice—even if that means pausing from time to time, then continuing our personal, emotional, intellectual, and moral growth around these issues.
The Journey Towards Equity in CSD
For some, the journey towards equity in CSD started during this Raw Conversation last Wednesday. For others, this conversation was a reminder to continue doing the social justice work we’ve already begun.
After this session, I feel more confident that we’re moving in a positive direction because many future clinicians, researchers, and policy workers decided to listen and engage with these topics. We are the future, and this was a great opportunity to establish a community of students and professionals who are ready to address the issues at hand.
Personally, I hope to one day move into policy work to create change on a larger scale—just like Senator Elizabeth Warren who started her career as an SLP. I’m confident that as we continue to have these kinds of conversations, we’ll be able to build our competency and move our field into a more equitable position. A place where we’re all culturally responsive, empathetic, and motivated individuals who, together, will create the change we want to see.
Please, Continue the Conversation
As rising audiologists, SLPs, and speech scientists, it’s imperative that we engage in these kinds of conversations to learn how to deal with them in real life—now as students and as future professionals.
If you weren’t able to attend last week’s session (or even if you were!), I encourage you to take some of the scenarios discussed and facilitate these conversations within your NSSLHA chapters and/or cohorts.