After a period of inactivity, members of SIUE’s National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing chapter are revamping the organization in hopes of bringing more minorities into speech-pathology.

SIUE’s NBASLH leadership saw the importance in reactivating the chapter, as there is great underrepresentation of minorities in speech pathology.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, about 3.5 percent of certificate holders in solely speech-language pathology in 2016 were black or African-American. Of those certified in both speech-language pathology and audiology, only 2.6 percent were black or African-American. 

However, chapter president Nydraisha Geeters, a senior speech-language pathology student of Rockford, Illinois, said the field needs representation from all minorities — not just African-Americans.

“We need more minorities in the field, whether they’re black or not,” Geeters said. “We need Hispanics, we need Indians, we need Asians because we need those people and we need their skills from their languages.”

In fact, ASHA reported while 92.2 percent of those certified solely speech-language pathology in 2016 were white, only 0.3 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native, 2.5 percent were Asian and 0.2 percent were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Only 5.1 percent of those identifying with Hispanic or Latino ethnicities were certified solely in speech-language pathology. 

Minority representation is necessary as speech pathologists serve a wide variety of clients, Geeters said. 

“The clientele that we serve are diverse,” Geeters said. “We don’t just specifically just help people of our own [backgrounds] —  like, you can help anybody. That being said, you don’t always help people who are from the same background as you, and so you have to be able to step out of your comfort zone.” 

Often, dialectal differences may be mistaken for speech problems, and this is something speech-language pathologists must be aware of in their practice, vice president and senior speech and language pathology major Kiersten Jamison, of Springfield, Illinois, said.

“Dr. Sauerwein … was talking about if she has a question about a certain dialect, she will go and ask that specific professional [from that group],” Jamison said. “So say she has a question about African-American Vernacular English, she will ask an African-American professional if they could help her because she knows she doesn’t understand it and wants to know if it’s an actual speech problem or if it’s just a dialectal [difference].” 

For Jamison, this is one of the many reasons why she’s proud of the work done in NBASLH. 

“It made me happier that we had this organization started because I feel … we could educate even our peers when we get into the workforce on what is a difference and what is an actual disorder,” Jamison said. 

Men are also strongly underrepresented in speech-pathology. 2016 data from ASHA states of those certified in speech pathology alone, 3.7 percent were men. Geeters said this can be problematic when considering cultural views. 

“That’s another thing that’s a problem for us because some cultures don’t look at women as professionals,” Geeters said. “So, that becomes a barrier. They want a male professional; well, we have a shortage of those.”

ASHA creates baseline diagnostic tests with native English speakers in mind, so speech-pathologists must create new tests for those who are not native English speakers. Because of this, Geeters and Jamison stressed the importance of having multi-lingual professionals in their field.

“If I’m working with a kid from a different language background, the tests that we have will not suffice because our tests are specifically for English speakers,” Geeters said. “So now I have to either find someone who knows this language and can help rewrite this test to actually give a sufficient test or I can’t test this kid, because if I test them, obviously the results are going to be false.”

Treasurer of NBASLH and sophomore speech-pathology major Jeanette Peebles, of Carlyle, Illinois, said she is minoring in Spanish in part so she can help serve more children in her field. 

Peebles said after graduation she plans to obtain a bilingual certification. 

“Being able to speak another language besides English in my field will be very helpful,” Peebles said. “It would kind of help broaden the different aspects of children I can help with the speech pathology disorder they have.” 

The group hopes to travel to Houston for an NBASLH convention, and are currently working on fundraising to get there. Geeters said the convention will include speakers discussing black professionals in the field, networking opportunities and will provide other experiences that will help the chapter members apply for grad school. 

Because SIUE does not provide clinical experience for undergraduate speech-language pathology students, Geeters said the conference will be an especially valuable experience. 

“Some schools will offer clinic in undergrad, our program does not offer clinic in the undergrad, so we won’t start clinic until grad school,” Geeters said. “Right now, we really don’t have any type of hands-on experience. So, we could have a really good experience [at the conference] just to ask questions, network and get to know things.” 

Geeters and Jamison said they hope to bring knowledge from the conference back to campus for both students interested in their field and those exploring different major options. 

“Hopefully, when we come back we’re going to try to put together a big presentation, not just for the speech path students, but … we’ll try to put something together for undeclared [students] who don’t know what they want to do yet and just do a really big presentation and just show what we experienced and what we encountered,” Geeters said. 

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