Rising United in CSD: Perspectives from AAPI CSD Students

“Where are you from?” “What are you?” “You don’t look Asian.” “You’re not really Asian.” “Asians don’t experience racism or struggle.” “Not to be racist, I just don’t want to get the virus.” “Just pick one nationality.” “You don’t sound like English is your second language.” 

As a multiracial and multiethnic Asian American, first-generation SLP graduate student, and student leader, these are just some of the comments I’ve heard throughout my academic and pre-professional career. I’m a home healthcare provider (and healthcare system navigator) to my immigrant grandparents, an at-home tutor and caregiver to my younger siblings, and a mental health supporter to my frontline working single-income mother. My identity as an Asian American from an immigrant family is as much defined by me, as it is perceived and imposed by others . . . and my experience is not isolated.

I chatted with a couple of my friends, and fellow CSD students, in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community to share with you a little about our experiences, what we know about healthcare within the AAPI communities, and suggestions on how we can all rise united in CSD as future audiologists and speech-language pathologists.

Finding Our Identities

Leila Regio (She/They/Siya): I’m Filipinx, Indian, and Chinese—identities that I didn’t fully embrace until I participated in ASHA’s Minority Student Leadership Program (MSLP) at the 2019 ASHA Convention in Orlando, Florida as a National NSSLHA member. There I met a cohort of 40 diverse future audiologists and speech-language pathologists that shared identities and commonalities as a Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color (BIPOC) who are navigating the CSD field. 

With the support from my cohort, they challenged me to embrace my identities as a multiracial individual with confidence and allowed me to speak my truth. This experience uplifted my thoughts and feelings of being “othered” and not represented or fully accepted in spaces I had and have continued to take space in.

Leeza “Abby” Oro (She/Her): I’m Asian American—a combination of two identities with values that tend to clash. American ideals include individualism, freedom, and opportunity while some Asian ideals are collectivism, family orientation, and industriousness. I’ve struggled with finding the balance between both and use values from each identity to formulate what I think means to be Asian American. My identity as both Asian and American are not mutually exclusive. 

Nkauj-Huab “Melydia” Lo (She/Her): My name is Nkauj-Huab (Go-Hua) and I’m a Hmong American. I’ve always gone by my middle name “Melydia” because it was easier to pronounce. It wasn’t until a professional acquaintance was persistent in calling me “Nkauj-Huab.” For so long I’d forgotten why my parents gave me a Hmong first name. My colleague reminded me to never let go of my roots and to continue telling my story the way it’s supposed to be. It honestly felt like I was living a double life before. But today, I’m able to embrace my culture and my identity. I am Nkauj-Huab.

Our Experiences in CSD

Leila: Within my classes and internships, I’ve noticed information about Asian health statistics, disparities, and cultural values are oftentimes misleading, contributing to a lack of adequate healthcare services and research for subgroups within the greater Asian community:

  • The category “Asian” is much too broad and rooted in the monolithic view that fails to recognize that the Asian community is made from 5 different subregions—Eastern Asia, Southeastern Asia, Southern Asia, Central Asia, and Western Asia— consisting of 48 countries and 3 territories. The intricacy of healthcare beliefs and needs within each of these communities is vast.
  • There’s also a decades-old narrative that’s haunted Asian communities in the U.S. The model minority myth suggests that some ethnic minorities are ideal based on conduct, socioeconomic and cultural integration, and academic proficiency. This has led to ethnic segregation and internalized stereotypes that sometimes contribute to feelings of inadequacy within AAPI students and populations we serve as future audiologists and speech-language pathologists.

So, I used moments in my classes, clinical internships, and leadership opportunities to clarify Asian health statistics and disparities by disaggregating data—starting with one of my own cultural backgrounds, Filipinx (Southeast Asian). I reviewed public health literature and discussed implications of their data in relation to speech-language pathology.

Abby: Being one of the few AAPI students in my cohort has been challenging; filled with ample, yet exhausting, opportunities to educate and advocate. I’ve felt the need to consistently prove and explain myself in my academic and pre-professional career after being questioned and doubted about my therapeutic approaches—even though other non-BIPOC colleagues would state similar answers.

Building Support Networks as AAPI Students and Allies

Leila: Through National NSSLHA and MSLP, I was introduced to ASHA’s Multicultural Constituency Groups (MCGs), Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), MSLP alumni, and BIPOC professionals paving the way for students from diverse backgrounds to enter the fields of audiology and speech-language pathology, leadership, and research with continued efforts towards equity and inclusion. 

Prior to MSLP, I often felt intimidated and alone in my efforts to navigate the often competitive environments that I’ve experienced as a CSD student.  Through this experience, I saw a glimpse of what diversity looked like where BIPOC students and professionals were the majority in spaces that aren’t often seen nor experienced by most CSD students and professionals from underrepresented backgrounds. I found authenticity within myself, in my connections, and a tribe of diverse students and leaders who continue to share the abundance of resources, network, and support for each other as we continue to strive for diversity, equity, and inclusion by bringing underrepresented individuals into the table. 

Abby: I naturally gravitate toward people of color in my cohort and workplace. Building relationships with other AAPI and BIPOC students allows me to feel comfortable. This need to connect is crucial—now more than ever—to empower and support marginalized communities. I appreciated that my university developed listening sessions for these students to express their experiences, several of which I’ve participated in to share my perspective being an Asian-American SLP student. 

It was during this past year that I connected with Leila through a close mutual colleague. We shared a mutual interest of voice and swallowing disorders, as well as promoting diversity and equity within our field. Not only have we chatted about these commonalities for hours, but Leila connected me with remarkable SLPs within her own network. This rare and genuine act has allowed me to gain a mentor in the voice disorders and gender-affirming niche.

Nkauj-Huab: Not seeing many other CSD students who looked like me within my cohort made me doubt myself and feel isolated. I never used to ask questions because I thought it was a sign of weakness. I often questioned if I really wanted to pursue this field. But this mentality got me nowhere.

Once I started getting curious and asking questions, opportunities opened for me. Asking for help led me to National NSSLHA and ASHA’s Asian Pacific Islander Speech-Language-Hearing Caucus, where I found so many individuals who look like me, inspire me, and motivate me. Meeting other AAPI peers helped me know that I’m not the only with these negative feelings. They check on me often and remind me that I’m capable and needed in the professions. These connections have motivated me to continue pursuing speech-language pathology. It’s the support system I needed, and I now feel like I hold a place in this field.

Rising United

We cannot let racism, discrimination, or lack of equity divert our attention from the true work at hand: Taking care of each other by speaking up and rising united. As emerging clinicians, researchers, professionals, and leaders, what lessons can learn, build upon, and advocate for? I hope we’ll all consider the power of our words, discourse, active listening, and genuine action to uplift our peers, mentors, and communities we serve.

Abby, Nkauj-Huab, and I have some ideas on how we can all commit to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion within CSD:

Expand Your Viewpoint

  • Understand that the AAPI community comes from many different subregions and cultural backgrounds. 
  • Research statistics in hate crimes, health disparities, and appropriate terminology.
  • Acknowledge your privileges as AAPI individuals and allies.
  • Read books and watch films by diverse creators from different backgrounds than yours.
  • Break out of your comfort zone and go beyond “small talk”—listen and absorb the perspectives of your BIPOC peers.
  • Don’t assume you know about someone else’s experience. Ask questions about others’ cultural backgrounds, values, and daily life. What’s important to them?

Cultivate Empathy

  • Be present and use active listening. Don’t interrupt when someone’s talking about their cultural background and experiences.
  • Listen with the intent to understand, not reply.
  • Acknowledge how cultural differences could provide perspective.

Get Involved

Let’s take our powers—as individuals, health advocates, and future audiologists and speech-language pathologists—to combat racism, discrimination, and health disparities . . . together in solidarity.

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