Reconfiguring graduate training program admissions is key to foundational change.
How can we promote a foundational change to center equity and social justice in communication sciences and disorders (CSD)?
In a discipline that does not represent the full diversity of the people we serve or of the U.S. population, we—members of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee of the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CAPCSD)—are committed to helping make our professions as diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just as possible.
The journey is challenging. Yet we can all position ourselves as change agents and transformative leaders in the recruitment and admissions processes at our institutions.
Before we offer action steps, we begin with establishing common ground in understanding the meaning of diversity, (in)equality, equity (vs. equality), and justice. We hope you find these definitions useful in facilitating conversation about these terms. The illustration that opens this article demonstrates these differences.
Diversity refers to the presence of individual and group differences (for example, race, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, class, ability), as well as critical intersections of these identities (see sources). However, it is entirely possible to increase diversity in CSD without effecting needed change in systems, policies, and procedures that perpetuate inequality.
For instance, the total number of U.S. doctoral degree recipients who identify as Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color (BIPOC) has increased, but without proportional growth in the diversity of faculty (see sources). Also, merely increasing diversity does not fundamentally alter the experience of marginalized members.
Inequality refers to unequal access to opportunities, with extension of privilege to those already having clear advantages. For example, academic programs that use the GRE in their admissions process expressly disadvantage students from marginalized backgrounds. Such tests become a gatekeeping mechanism, working against increased diversification. Rather than predicting students’ future higher-education success, the GRE more reliably indicates race and gender (see sources). It also selects against socio-economically disadvantaged people.
Conversely, equality means that opportunities and resources are equally distributed, regardless of historic inequities or differential needs—but, as the illustration demonstrates, equality doesn’t necessarily provide equal access. One flawed assumption is that existing systems are strictly merit-based and that all people have equal access to higher education, mentoring, professional development, recognition, and leadership opportunities.
For example, any scholar may apply for competitive NIH research grants, but Black principal investigators (PIs) are much less likely to receive funding than PIs who are White, Asian, or Hispanic/Latinx, according to analyses (see sources).
Contrasted with equality, equity calls for differentiated allocation of resources to level the playing field and address inequality resulting from structural racism and discrimination. For example, providing need-based application-fee waivers removes a barrier facing historically underrepresented students. Similarly, intentional and proactive advising and mentorship are critical for ensuring the success of minoritized students and new clinicians (see sources).
Finally, justice refers to changing dysfunctional structures and providing everyone access to opportunities and resources needed for success. Social justice scholar Lee Anne Bell described social justice as “a process and a goal.” The process involves democratic participation of stakeholders, affirmation and inclusion of minoritized voices and perspectives, and collaboration for change.
For example, if CSD clinicians and scientists seek to better serve people with communication disorders, they should also challenge barriers and advocate for change in educational and health care systems.
If you are ready to get started, but feel daunted by where to begin, here are some suggestions for academic programs:
The trail toward increased justice in the professions entails challenges, deliberate planning, and hard work. Yet we must forge ahead to realize a stronger future.
Nidhi Mahendra, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor and chair of the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences at San Jose State University. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. [email protected]
Teresa M. Girolamo, PhD, is a T32 postdoctoral trainee at the University of Connecticut, where her research aims to advance equity and inclusion in CSD. [email protected]
Danai Kasambira Fannin, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at North Carolina Central University. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. [email protected]
DEI Committee members Lauren Bland, PhD, CCC-SLP; Jamila Harley, MEd, CCC-SLP; and Kerry Mandulak, PhD, CCC-SLP, contributed to editing this article, based in part on a presentation at the 2021 CAPCSD Annual Conference.
Association of American Colleges and Universities (2015). Committing to equity and inclusive excellence. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Bell, L. A. (2007). Theoretical foundations for social justice education. In M. Adams, L. Bell, & P. Griffin (Eds). Teaching for diversity and social justice (2nd Edition; pp. 1-15). New York: Taylor & Francis.
Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139–167.
Fannin, D. K., Mandulak, K. C. Bland, L., Harley, J., Girolamo, T., & Mahendra, N. (2021). A framework for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Plenary Session, CAPCSD Annual Conference (virtual).
Ginther, D. K., Schaffer W. T., Schnell J., Masimore B., Liu F., Haak, L. L., & Kington R. (2011). Race, ethnicity, and NIH research awards. Science, 333, 1015–1019.
Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.
Mahendra, N., Bayles, K. A., Tomoeda, C. K., & Kim, E. S. (2005). Diversity and learner-centered education. The ASHA Leader, 10(6), 12–19.
Mandulak, K. C., Fannin, D. K., & Taylor, J. (October 2020). Considerations for inclusive and equitable admissions processes. CAPCSD Member Webinar.
Miller, C., &Stassun, K. (2014). A test that fails. Nature, 510, 303–304.
Mintz, S. (April 20, 2021). How to stand up for equity in higher education. Inside Higher Ed.
Taffe, M. A., & Gilpin, M. W. (2021). Equity, diversity and inclusion: Racial inequity in grant funding from the US National Institutes of Health. eLife, 10(e65697), 1–11.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups 2018 (NCES 2019-038).
Wilson, M. A., DePass, A., & Bean, A. J. (2018). Institutional interventions that remove barriers to recruit and retain diverse biomedical PhD students. CBE Life Sciences Education, 17(2), ar27.
Wright-Harp, W., & Cole, P. A. (2008). A mentoring model for enhancing success in graduate education. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 35, 4–16.