Time-travel back to 1968—maybe you remember that turbulent period or maybe you weren't yet born. But events a little more than 40 years ago shaped today's ASHA in a way that Orlando Taylor, more than most members, understands.
That's because he experienced—and played a leading role in—a dramatic chapter in ASHA's history, when a small group of members had the courage to speak up about the dearth of African American audiologists and SLPs, the lack of multicultural topics in training programs, and especially the way monocultural speech and language norms were defined and applied in relation to the testing and labeling of many African American children.
For Taylor, now vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school at Howard University, and others, the idea of social responsibility at ASHA began to stir in the ferment of 1968, when the United States was rocked by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, protests against the Vietnam War, and riots that boiled over at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and in many other parts of the country.
As a young faculty member at Indiana University, he was a campus activist, member of the local NAACP chapter, and faculty advisor to a number of university groups. His activism attracted the notice of ASHA President John Irwin at the 1968 ASHA Convention in Denver.
Irwin turned his presidential address over to a debate between Taylor and John Michel, a member opposed to the association becoming involved in social responsibility. Each spoke to the question of a professional association's role in a conflict society. The debate's focus was the Vietnam War, not the controversy over diversity and language norms in communication sciences and disorders (CSD).
"We addressed whether ASHA should become socially responsible or stay strictly focused on clinical and research issues in CSD," Taylor recalled. "I said absolutely that we should be socially responsible as an organization, particularly since communication is central to self-expression and a democratic society."
The Denver debate led to the formation of the new Black Caucus—and anxiety among some members and leaders of ASHA.
"There were only seven or eight of us—although we were believed to be a much larger group—and we challenged some of the sacred principles related to language norms. At that time the norms centered on Standard English spoken largely by Midwesterners," he said.
"We were concerned about how ASHA interpreted what is now called African American English. We cited mainstream linguistic and sociolinguistic texts and looked at how kids were being tested for communication disorders and how they were being labeled. We said that this approach was intellectually wrong, a faulty standard."
The caucus' challenge generated fear among some members. He recalled rumors that the Black Caucus was organizing Denver's black community to march on the ASHA Convention and that the caucus would actually burn down the convention hotel if the association didn't take action on the issues.
"A segment of the membership was very supportive, but a much larger group was threatened by these issues," he said. "ASHA had been very a tranquil organization historically, with no discussion of social responsibility."
In 1969, he and others published an article in Asha magazine proposing an office within ASHA to advance reforms in research, curricula, standards, and student recruitment. The issues raised by the Black Caucus led to the formation later that year of the Office of Urban and Ethnic Affairs—the precursor of ASHA's current Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Taylor gives ASHA's multicultural efforts good grades in some areas, noting "significant progress in research on multiculturalism in CSD, which is now recognized as a legitimate intellectual topic." In two areas, though, he believes, success has not been achieved. "We're not recruiting enough minority PhDs—actually not enough PhDs in general. And secondly, we need to advocate more vigorously for targeted funding with a goal of graduating more persons of color, espcially at the doctoral level. This strategy has been used successfully in the physical and biological sciences," Taylor said.
"PhDs are the gatekeepers who write the textbooks and the tests and set professional standards," he said. "If you have a dearth of people of color at that level, you don't have a natural way to infuse diversity on the intellectual side."
The debate has changed course over the years, he said. "We made the case for inclusion/diversity around the theme of social justice and the 14th amendment. That argument doesn't work today.
"Now we cite workforce needs. Minority communities are growing, and we can't ignore such a large population in need of our services, and who will comprise a significant portion of our future workforce."