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In the 1990s—as ASHA reached its 65th anniversary and the 20th century came to a close—the association's interest in and activities on behalf of multiculturalism grew exponentially, building on the progress of the preceding two decades and laying the groundwork for future expansion of projects and services.
ASHA responded to the increasing awareness of the potential impact of one's cultural and linguistic background on professional preparation and service delivery and took the lead within the association industry in multicultural and diversity efforts. Throughout the decade, ASHA dedicated resources to multicultural efforts, composed professional policies, proposed curricula, implemented standards, developed marketing kits, held sociocultural diversity training, wrote a multicultural action agenda, formed special interest divisions, and honored minority members.
The 1990s became the decade of growth, particularly for the Multicultural Issues Board (MIB) and the multicultural constituency groups.
The MIB, which serves in an advisory role to the ASHA Board of Directors, has been a standing ASHA board since 1988. Members of the MIB are appointed and include representatives of the MCCGs as well as at-large members.
The MIB's specific charge is to review, monitor, and recommend association policies and actions on diverse populations; recommend and monitor association policies and actions to increase the availability of professional services and improve the quality of these services for culturally and linguistically diverse individuals; identify and promote research and education relevant to the communication needs, differences, delays, and disorders of persons within multicultural groups; and facilitate the ability of all ASHA members to provide appropriate services to diverse populations.
Working in synchrony with the MIB and with a focus on their identified populations, the multicultural constituency groups (MCCGs) recruit professionals; promote improvement in the quality of speech, language, and hearing services; promote research and knowledge related to identification, diagnosis, and treatment; seek financial support for students; mentor and counsel students; serve as consumer advocates at the local, state, and national levels; encourage association participation and leadership; contribute to efforts to increase the cultural competence of all ASHA members; provide professional support and networking opportunities; and disseminate information and resources.
The MCCGs, sometimes collectively referred to as caucuses, were initially formed to foster closer ties among professionals of cultural and ethnic groups and to reduce their isolation, according Luis F. Riquelme, co-founder of the Hispanic Caucus and past MIB chair. And although ASHA publishes an "incredible amount" of materials on bilingualism, intercultural issues, and second-language issues, he said, "caucus members still want a smaller group of fellow professionals who are experiencing the same issues with whom they can relate and consult."
The constituency groups also serve a broader role. "We strive to ensure appropriate multicultural representation at all levels of association business," Riquelme said, "and to reduce discrimination, fight misperceptions, and promote better clinical services to the public."
Looking to the Future
The ideal goal, Riquelme said, is for the constituency groups to disappear. "That will happen when diversity is totally infused into everyday clinical and research practice, and bilingualism is viewed for its positive effects on cognition and literacy," he said.
"Obviously, we're not there yet. The United States in the only place in the world where bilingualism is seen as a problem rather than an asset. And we are just at the very beginning of bringing researchers and clinicians together to set standards on data collection and interpretation for bilingual and diverse populations."
The future activities of the MCCGs—and of ASHA—he said, should be directed toward the goal of "no professional left behind, no patient left behind."
The MCCGs, which are open to all interested members, include:
- National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing (NBASLH), a fully independent association founded on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1978
- Native American Caucus, formed in 1986 with a focus on American Indian/Alaska Native populations
- Hispanic Caucus, formed in 1992, a specific forum and voice for meeting the needs of members of several groups originating from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Central and South America, and Mexico
- Asian Indian Caucus, formed in 1994 as a forum for individuals of Asian Indian (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc.) origin
- Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, formed in 1994, which includes individuals from Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Guam, Hawaii, and those from the U.S. mainland who are of Asian Pacific Islander descent
- L'GASP-GLBT Caucus, a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender professionals that began meeting informally in 1982 to discuss issues of concern to members' professional lives
The MIB and the MCCGs are approaching the new century with characteristic enthusiasm, excitement, energy, and commitment. They will individually and collectively continue to contribute to ASHA's diversity efforts, serving as resources for all members.
Luis F. Riquelme, MS, CCC-SLP, is assistant professor at New York Medical College, director of Riquelme & Associates, and director of the Center for Swallowing and Speech-Language Pathology at New York Methodist Hospital. He can be reached at email@example.com.