Part 1 of an occasional series
Forty years ago, in 1969, I was busy absorbing as much education as possible from the Cleveland (Ohio) Public Schools. After testing in the fourth grade, I was placed in advanced classes, and was transferred from my neighborhood school to another school into a combined advanced class of fifth- and sixth-graders. All but one of us were African American, and most of us traveled many miles to the school. I took three city buses every weekday morning.
At the new school, the students teased me and my classmates for "thinking we were smart" and "talking funny." At home, my parents gave me clear instructions about how I was to talk. I was to use formal, or what I know now to be standard, English at school and to adults—especially people outside our community—but I was free to speak to my friends using African American English. Those instructions and my parents' model of code-switching opened my world in a way that I didn't understand at the time, but now deeply appreciate.
My neighborhood friends walked across the street to school. An overwhelming number of them were placed in special education classes simply because they didn't code-switch to standard English, and instead used only African American English.
The Broader Context
My friends and I weren't that different, but the interpretation of our use of language was significantly different. Members of ASHA's Black Caucus saw the plight of my neighborhood friends and many like them—who were not exhibiting language disorders—and understood that ASHA had to change its practice policies (see Interview with Orlando Taylor). In the debate that ensued, caucus members argued that the association's language differences vs. disorders issue could have a larger societal impact. The caucus implored ASHA to make changes at a time when the association wasn't convinced that it had a social responsibility. The intense discussion resulted in ASHA legislation to establish an Office of Urban and Ethnic Affairs in 1969. That office became the Office of Minority Concerns in 1980, and is now ASHA's Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA).
The transition to becoming a socially responsible organization wasn't an easy one for ASHA. Demographic changes, political shifts, changes in ideology, new research findings, and the discovery and application of new technologies are just some of the challenges ASHA has faced.
The celebration of our 40th anniversary reflects the efforts of several generations of ASHA clinicians, researchers, faculty, supervisors, and administrators. ASHA's accomplishments in the multicultural arena extend to the entire national office, the work of ASHA committees, boards, councils, and special interest divisions, and work with related professional organizations. There have been tireless deliberations on a wide range of issues: the distinction between speech and language differences and disorders, the need for research to determine and validate best practices, the expansion and redefinition of multicultural populations, an increased emphasis on bilingual development and multicultural infusion, and the recruitment of under-represented populations into the professions.
We can look back now at the trials and triumphs that have made ASHA a stronger organization, and the progress that has allowed us to implement the components required to foster diversity and inclusion. This anniversary gives us an opportunity to celebrate who we are. ASHA is known for its diversity programming and commitment in the national association community. Our commitment to diversity is embedded within the fabric of our organization and also has given ASHA a competitive advantage in recruiting top association professionals.
ASHA is committed to helping you stay current in providing appropriate services to diverse demographic groups. Diversity is addressed in our strategic plan and reflected in our Board of Directors. ASHA has a Multicultural Issues Board, a special interest division specifically related to culturally and linguistically diverse populations, a Diversity Team within the national office, and several multicultural constituency groups that offer support and guidance.
This is the path we've traveled. Future articles will describe specific aspects of the development of multiculturalism at ASHA. It is only by appreciating our past that we will fully realize our future potential.