Launching DEI Initiatives on Campus as a Black Man in CSD

February 23, 2020: A trio of three White men in two vehicles pursued, shot, and killed Ahmaud Arbery—an unarmed Black man who was jogging near his home in Brunswick, Georgia.

March 11, 2020: The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global health emergency.

May 25, 2020: White police officers arrested and handcuffed George Floyd—a Black man. One officer proceeded to pin Floyd to the ground for more than 9 minutes—this last action ultimately killed Floyd.

Within the first 5 months of 2020, these three significant events brought to light (or, rather, unearthed) the hidden narratives regarding race and inequity that have been affecting this country and the world, in general, for hundreds of years. All three narratives contribute to the heightened awareness and fear that Black people and people of color routinely harbor in their everyday relationships with the health care system:

  • Ahmaud Arbery was an innocent man, minding his own business, tending to his personal health in his very own neighborhood. Three members of Arbery’s own community stereotyped him for “causing trouble” because the first and only thing they saw about him was the color of his skin.
  • When police officers killed George Floyd, the world was reminded of a 400-year-old narrative that still exists today—the reality that people of color walk through the world each day carrying a fear that everyone in society is against them and a constant, oftentimes exhausting, need to be vigilant at all times, in all interactions.
  • The disproportionately high numbers of COVID-19 cases and confirmed deaths of people of color living in poverty and residing in overpopulated communities is staggering.

The Two Pandemics of 2020

As a second-year SLP graduate student at Radford University, in Virginia, I’m one of three men in my cohort of 23, and I’m the only Black person.

At the beginning of 2020, the global pandemic kept us indoors, eyes glued to the news and fingers pressed upon the pulse of the world around us as COVID-19 spread internationally. We saw protests following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Police brutality killed my Black sisters—women like Breonna Taylor (2020) and Atatiana Jefferson (2019). Early 2020 brought the realization that we are living through not just one but two pandemics:

  1. The COVID-19 outbreak that has lasted for more than a year and a half now.
  2. Racism—which has lasted for 400+ years.

We, as a nation and a world, need to address this crisis—especially at the heart of 2020, when it seemed like the world was so hopelessly divided. How do we address this? We start with conversations.

Uncomfortable Conversations: In My Cohort and At My University

Conversations centered around racism and calling out one’s bias can ultimately be uncomfortable and can lead people to dissemble relationships—because having such conversations is difficult and the truth can hurt. But it’s through these honest conversations that we learn about each other (really learn) and understand that racism has not yet been eradicated and it certainly wasn’t eradicated due to the “abolishment” of slavery. Hard, honest conversations with each other about racial inequality, biases, microaggressions, and so forth, are interactions that we should challenge ourselves to each day as we mend our divide and come together.

Two questions I like to consider when having uncomfortable conversations are:

  1. Who’s sitting at your table?
  2. Do they look like you?

These questions marked the inception of conversations centered around diversity at my university. For me, it was important to start these conversations in my CSD community because my table sat few people who looked like me and I knew I wanted to talk about the heart of the matter in our world: Diversity.

As I sat at home during the summer of 2020, I decided that these uncomfortable conversations needed to continue, especially within the speech-language pathology profession. Per ASHA’s 2020 Member & Affiliate Profile, Black or African American individuals made up 3.6% of the profession (n = 208,135), while White individuals made up nearly 92%. These stats are important for students to understand because of their make-up in their respective cohorts. It gives perspective to the “bigger picture;” that the world is diverse, such is our clientele, so we foster education and recruitment of people of color within our growing field. 

Initially, I shared a video that I had created, “If I Had A Dream,” with my classmates and professors so I could open up conversations about what was occurring around the world and so that we, as a university community, could address how we could come together in the new semester to continue these conversations.

The response from the video drew in honest conversations from my classmates and professors, and it motivated me to expand these conversations to a larger basis (Radford Communication Sciences and Disorders [COSD] department and staff). With the help of my supportive professors and classmates, I led the charge of a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) campaign—the first of its kind at Radford. We hosted conversations with Black individuals who talked about topics ranging from intersectionality and microaggressions to working with diverse individuals as a practicing clinician. Open dialogue about diversity became the center of conversations before, during, and after class. Radford COSD was (and still is) integrating ways to be culturally competent.

DEI BINGO

Toward the end of the semester—after the numerous brown-bag luncheons, videos, and conversations had come to an end—I thought about how I could wrap up Radford COSD’s first-ever DEI campaign to make sure that these conversations continue. With some inspiration from my peers, I created a DEI BINGO card (a self-directed activity to be done on one’s own time or in a small-group setting) that not only opened up conversations but added educational pieces as well. Each column has activities for the individual to either “watch,” “read,” “do,” or “listen” about topics centered around the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The great thing about the DEI BINGO card was the response! Professors and students coming together for one shared vision—education and allyship. One activity on the card that I loved hearing responses about was “Having a conversation about racial equality with a friend.” One student wrote, ‘…this motivates me to continue learning about racial inequalities, why they exist, and how we can continue trying to bridge the gap and to have more conversations like this.’

For NSSLHA members and CSD students: I encourage NSSLHA members and CSD programs across the country to participate in DEI BINGO. See if you can fill your card!

For NSSLHA chapters: Implement programs just like DEI Bingo within chapters. Programs can follow the theme: Education, Communication, and Demonstration. Advancing our multicultural outlook within NSSLHA begins with education of racial inequalities; communicating (listening); and acting as allies/advocates to those underrepresented (latter point expands to our patients/clients).

For CSD programs and administrators: You don’t need to start from scratch to do this . . .  simply follow the example of Radford COSD professors and implement DEI BINGO into your curriculum as extra credit for students, requiring them to write about the experience they had while filling in their DEI BINGO card.

I hope you use the BINGO card and continue these necessary conversations within your own cohorts and university settings. Post your card on social media and use the hashtags #NSSLHA and #DiverseSpeech to see how wide our conversations carry. Here’s to coming together!

3 Comments

  1. Terri Shelor November 9, 2021 at 1:35 pm

    Kevin Simmons we are so thankful to have you here at RU and for the leadership you have provided!! We cannot wait to see all the great things you do after graduation.!!

    Reply
  2. Michelle Lenhart November 10, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    Kevin Simmons rules, and we are so thankful that he helped us to prioritize this important area!

    Reply
  3. Rebecca D Epperly November 10, 2021 at 3:16 pm

    Kevin- You’ll always have a spot at the table here at RU and we hope to keep the dialogue going! I have no doubt you’ll continue to inspire those around you, while also entertaining them with a light hearted dance or song along the way.

    Reply

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