2020 Essay Contest - Honorable Mention: The Lack of Diversity in the Field of Speech-Language Pathology by Alondra Del Real

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The Lack of Diversity in the Field of Speech-Language Pathology by Alondra Del Real

As a first-generation graduate student pursuing a career in speech-language pathology, I believe one of the most unresolved issues is the lack of diversity in what is a predominantly white dominated profession within my field. I would recommend resolving this issue by promoting advocacy for the profession in communities where diverse populations reside as well as finding ways to support minority groups that are pursuing a masters degree.

The reason I believe that lack of diversity is an issue in our field is because there is lack of relatability between patients and professionals. As a patient going in to see a professional, in this case a speech-language pathologist, a patient may not feel a connected to the SLP. This causes an issue with building rapport before moving on to attempt to treat the patient. Additionally, research shows that people with more education ask more questions. In many occasions an SLP is seeing patients that have far less education and therefore will ask far less questions. Patients may not ask questions because they don’t want to feel intimidated in front of someone that has more education than they do. Looking at this issue from the perspective of an SLP, they also may not be able to relate to the patient and their experiences. If an SLP comes from a family that has education, they will know to ask questions when something is not clear. They may also have the belief that if a patient has questions they would simply ask. This poses an issue for the clients we serve because patients may not complete recommendations or exercises given to them to do at home if they don’t understand what they should be doing and were too afraid to ask. As America continues to increase in diversity, the populations SLP’s serve will become increasingly diverse as well. As SLP’s, we serve patients throughout the life span, including young/old, cisgender/transgender, Deaf individuals, low and high SES communities, individuals with different religious and cultural beliefs and much more. It is becoming increasingly important to diversify the field of SLP in order to provide better care for the populations we serve.

Additionally, a lack of diversity can cause increased discrimination. This includes discrimination in the workplace as well as discrimination with the clients we serve. Employers that are not a part of a minority group have fewer opportunities to understand other minorities perspectives and only understand issues and perspectives from their own personal life experiences. Co-workers from different backgrounds, ages and ethnicities bring their own unique set of experiences and working together would help them problem solve and would allow SLP’s to provide richer patient centered care by looking at the patient as a whole. This would allow for co-workers to learn from each other and increase empathy and service delivery for patients.

As a student that was born and raised in a rural town in southwest Kansas, I found out about the profession when I was 22. I fit the description of a non-traditional college student after I returned to college to pursue an education in this field. For many students, this is not the case. Typically students are pressured to pick a career when they are in their early teen years and still in high school. Therefore, a way to increase interest in this field in diverse populations would be to advocate for the profession among young high school students. The same could be done for students in community colleges where they are still completing their general education requirements before continuing on to a bigger university. This approach would ensure that students are finding out about the profession sooner and when they are deciding what they would like to do for the rest of their lives. 

It would also be important to include rural communities where diverse populations may reside in order to target a wider range of diverse students. Undergraduate student organizations within the Communication Sciences and Disorders realm could be the ones that initiate a movement like the one I am proposing. Groups such as National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) which is our national student organization could either travel to smaller communities in their surrounding towns or conduct virtual meetings with other student members from other organizations that are either in high school or college. Student organizations that include first generation students and would have a high number of diverse populations include TRIO or Student Hispanic and Latino Organizations (HALO). In return, student organizations such as NSSLHA would obtain volunteer hours and through providing advocacy to other students in order to make the profession more diverse. NSSLHA students would benefit by counting their time as volunteer hours to help boost their resume to make themselves more competitive when they begin to apply for graduate school and show graduate programs that they are committed to an important movement within the field

Many of my classmates knew about the field of SLP because they had either an aunt, an uncle or a parent that is an SLP or works closely to one. Unfortunately, as a first-generation student, I did not have the same benefits because my family does not have the same level of education.

I strongly believe that if more students from diverse populations became SLP’s and provided services to others, whether it was in schools, hospitals or private practice, it would create a chain effect and allow more opportunity for diverse populations to have role models to look up to. Young elementary students would have role-models to look up to that they can have a connection with. These young kids would grow up to remember the bilingual SLP that helped them when they were in elementary school. As a result, a young student would know that it is possible for anyone to pursue any profession regardless of the color of their skin. All SLP’s need role models to look up to throughout their education and professional careers. Newly graduated SLP’s would benefit from having role models they could turn to when they need guidance with a new patient. This would create better job satisfaction and job retention for SLP’s and their employers.

Additionally, minority students have to face struggles that other classmates do not. These students cannot always receive guidance from their parents and family members. Sometimes family members do not understand what speech-language pathologists do, so a student does not have a great support system at home, or someone they can turn to talk to when something exciting happens at school. Being a minority or first-generation student can feel lonely at times because they cannot turn to their classmates to vent about additional struggles they face because they are scared they may be frowned upon by their classmates. In order to combat the feeling of loneliness first generation students face, SLP master’s programs could provide support groups for their diverse master degree seeking students. A group such as this could assign a professor that is familiar with multicultural issues as an advisor that students could turn to for help. A “people of color” group could include students at varying levels of their education that range from students seeking bachelor’s degrees to doctoral students. This would create a network of connectedness among diverse students and a safe space for students to open up to vent or receive guidance from one another. Finally, a support group would allow for students in the beginning stages of their education to have a role model to look up to.

The need to increase the diversity of speech-language pathologists is becoming increasingly important in America due to the increase in diverse populations being served. The lack of diversity within the field is an issue that needs to be targeted more rigorously in the years to come. As a solution, advocacy needs to increase among younger teenage students and students in the early stages of their college education. Once students are recruited and accepted in master’s programs, graduate student satisfaction can be increased through creating support groups for diverse populations. By taking these steps, there will be increased patient satisfaction and safety due to patients and professionals being able to relate to one another. Professionals will be able to build rapport and create a level of trust with their patients that will ensure patient satisfaction and better quality of life at home.