CSD Diversity Taskforce Works to Increase Enrollment of Underrepresented Populations

It is no secret that the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology professions have a diversity and inclusion problem. About a quarter of the US population identifies as a racial minority (US Census Bureau, Quick Facts, v. 2019), whereas only about 8.3% of the membership of the American Speech, Language, Hearing Association (ASHA, 2019) identifies as a racial minority. Furthermore, the percentage of Black or African American ASHA members has been static for about 10 years, hovering between a low of 3.1% and a high of 3.5%. In a country where 13% of the population identifies as Black or African American, and in a city where 64% are Black, there is clearly room for improvement. The UofM can make a difference.

The most recent strategic plan for the School incorporated diversity and inclusion outcomes and a focus on recruitment, enrollment, and retention of underrepresented populations. Lack of diversity within the University of Memphis Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology programs has bothered Dr. Casandra Banks for years. When Dr. Linda Jarmulowicz, the Dean of the School, approached Dr. Banks about leading a diversity task force with a focus on recruiting more people of color to the graduate programs, Dr. Banks knew it was time to act.

The diversity task force consists of clinical faculty (Dr. Banks, AuD, chair; Julie Marshall, MA), tenure track faculty (Dr. Sarah Warren; Dr. Deborah Moncrieff), AuD students (Courtland Barnes; Jaqueline Kim), MA students (Lori Davis, Hannah Leflore), a PhD student (Megan Burkhardt-Reed), and community members (Dr. Andrea Moore, MA, SLP; Kajuanda Reynolds, MA, SLP). Lori Davis, a 2nd year speech student on the committee, noted that she was proud the school created a committee to work on diversity issues. She stated, "this summer there were a lot of brands and institutions that took a stance and released a statement (about diversity), but we went beyond a message and we have started something to create action."

The Diversity Task Force was on a tight schedule this semester to influence recruitment for the incoming class for fall 2021. They have reached out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and to undergraduate programs at the UofM. Dr. Banks and her team have pushed for more representation on the CSD website and in promotional materials. The task force has held two outreach sessions by Zoom specifically for minority students. Dr. Banks believes they were a great start to recruiting minority students. The sessions reinforced Lori's understanding that the target student groups lack knowledge of the School and the professional fields within CSD. She realized that many students are really interested in speaking with her one-on-one about her individual experiences and hearing her advice on applying to the program.

Other plans include outreach to high-school students, development of a bridge program between HBCU's and the CSD graduate programs at the UofM, and establishment of a scholarship for minority students pursuing education in communication sciences and disorders.

So far, the task force members are hopeful and enthusiastic about their plans. One of the student members of the committee, Jacqueline Kim, a 3rd year audiology student, shared positive feelings about the group's work and believes its impact will be long lasting. She and Lori both have enjoyed being heard by the faculty and being given the opportunity to share their perspective in a collaborative environment. Dr. Banks shared that it has been "a really positive experience so far" and that she is really excited about the potential impact that the Diversity Task Force can have on the School and the professions.