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SLP Diversity Corp: How diversity fosters innovation and collaboration

A few months ago, I caused quite a stir on SLP social media when I started a conversation about the lack of diversity in our field. I learned a lot from that post: namely that diversity is desperately needed within our field, but the language around getting there is full of obstacles that threaten to only further divide and isolate us.

After that conversation, I started a project called SLP Diversity Corp. I invite you to join us on this journey and become a member today. Membership is free and requires about an hour of your time each year.

I am an SLP in Missoula, Montana and own a company called SLP Insights, which designs therapy materials. Before I became an SLP, I spent 8 years as a science communicator. I have interacted with the Massai at the base of the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano in the East African Rift, biked from the U.S. base to the New Zealand base on Ross Island, Antarctica while working on a project with an international group of scientists hailing from Johannesburg to Rome to Bremen to Sydney to the Bronx; traversed the Wellington faultline of New Zealand, completed my undergrad over 13,000 kilometers from where I graduated from high school, which was in a zoo, complete with peacocks interrupting psychology class and camels waiting for carrots after class; I have mistaken the dolphin swimming next to me in the Pacific for a shark, traveled with a symphony orchestra to play with a group of musicians in Beijing, cruised the Norwegian sea with scientists from around the world, realized I was committing a faux pas by not bringing my own yerba mate cup to Uruguay, tried to articulate my spirituality in botched Spanish to a host family in Mexico, escaped a poor cab decision and gun fight in Buenos Aires.

When I was little, I spent nights sleeping next to the dinosaurs at the Morrill Hall natural science museum at the University of Nebraska, a project known as Super Science Saturdays, meant to encourage young girls to pursue a passion for science, led by Judy Diamond. I later worked with Judy to develop a million dollar grant to give access to Antarctic climate research in multiple languages to people from remote villages to large science museums. I worked with UNAVCO in Boulder on their massive endeavor to recruit under-represented groups to the field of geology and geophysics through an intensive summer mentorship program.

After traversing seven continents, I have spent much, much time reflecting on the world and the vast array of people and perspectives and experiences. I have reveled in getting to take part in so many places and so many cultures. There are moments with such profound human connections with people from around the world that are a fundamental part of who I am. These adventures have dramatically shaped my view of the world and my place in it.

I returned to grad school later in life, after these adventures, and have found my career in speech-language pathology to be an absolute gift. I love my job and am passionate about the services that SLPs provide.

However, my travel and work experience before becoming an SLP has given me a whole new perspective on what is required to be socially, academically, and culturally accepted as an SLP within the current status quo of our field, which is arguably one of the least diverse fields of occupation. When I became an SLP, I transitioned from a job where I interacted with so many different people and ideas and conversations to a field with a relatively monolithic culture, background, and perspective. It was a tough transition for me. It's something I want to talk about, but it's been a very difficult conversation to have.

I attended ASHA’s conference in Denver in 2015 and sat there stunned during the keynote as members of the board of directors led a loudly cheering audience in celebration of ASHA’s diversity. I looked around me and saw only people who looked like me. I wondered if I was missing something.  I had just begun my clinical fellowship year and felt very disconnected from my new profession in that moment.

Over time, I have been inspired to offer a grassroots plan of action, in partnership with active and retired SLPs like you across the globe, to bring true diversity to this profession. I am an ideas person. I love it when ideas take on life and grow and change and morph into things we can't even imagine when they are born. Ideas need diversity to bloom. Monolithic professional cultures run the risk of perpetuating stale, myopic views and are self-limiting when it comes to addressing the greatest research, clinical, and organizational challenges of our time. I believe that diversity fosters innovation, collaboration, and a broader lens through which to view solutions to problems. SLP Diversity Corp is my offering as a push forward in the momentum to resolve this disconnect.

THE VISION: 40 by 2040. 40% of applicants to speech language pathology programs will be from currently under-represented groups by the year 2040.

It's a big goal and a very, very tough conversation. I welcome any and all thoughts, ideas, critiques, monologues, frustrations, inspirations, recommendations, ridicules, and everything in between. This conversation is too important not to have.

Join us!