Antiracism for SLP’s | An Interview with Jackie Rodriguez

Guys, I’m so excited about this interview. I have learned so much and I am just in absolute awe of Jackie Rodriguez. She has been extremely generous with her time and patience as we’ve explored the topic of race during these really complicated times. She held my hand and walked me through this discussion. It was just an amazing interview and hopefully the start of a beautiful friendship.

Jackie Rodriguez

Who is Jackie Rodriguez?

Jackie Rodriguez is a travel speech-language pathologist originally from Augusta, Georgia. She spent the first three years of her career working as a bilingual diagnostician in metro Atlanta (English is her first language, Spanish is her 2nd). To give you an idea of how big her caseload was, the average elementary school had 900-1200 kids, the high schools could have up to 4000 kids & there were 2 bilingual SLPs for k-12 for the entire county.

As a diagnostician, she was required to assist in any bilingual assessment, even if she didn’t speak the other language and was unfamiliar with the culture. She spent a lot of time researching languages and cultures to provide culturally sensitive evaluations. She read research articles, sought out mentors, and attended sessions at ASHA Conventions to learn more about providing culturally sensitive services. Her experiences make her passionate about the research that is necessary to perform culturally sensitive evaluations.

She was raised in a bicultural home by two New Yorker parents in Augusta, GA. “As you can imagine, I didn’t fit in, so I always sought out others that were different as friends,” she says. Her cultural background and friendships have made her super passionate about culture, race, and language. Following her passions for culture, race and language, she signed up for SLP School and was shocked to find out “how White it is” (check out the article she wrote for ASHA about this).

Let’s Talk About Race and Speech-Language Pathology

Now do you see why I’m excited about this interview? She spent a lot of time answering my questions and providing me with food for thought. As always, I made a tweak here or there (sadly, I removed some pretty on-point emojis), but the answers are Jackie’s. The emphasis (bold print) is me.

What makes you excited about the field of Speech-language pathology? 

The fact that it’s growing every day! I love diving into the research and learning. I also love that you don’t have to specialize and that you can switch settings or demographics. Culturally and linguistically diverse patients are my passion, but I can take that into any setting.

I’m a white woman living in a mostly white suburb in NH – tell me 3 things I need to know about race.

Going to be honest here, I hate this question. Lol This is extremely taxing and puts a lot of responsibility on the person of color (POC) to educate. Maybe reserve this question for your White interviewees who are currently on an anti-racism journey. Like “what are three things that you can share about what you’ve learned during your anti-racism journey?”

I’m raising a white man – how should I teach him about systemic racism?

So Black people learn about oppression and systemic racism both through their own lived experiences as well as their parents teaching them their history. For young children, the greatest thing we can teach them to do is to see color. We have differences that need to be celebrated and respected, not ignored.

We need to be showing them picture books with Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). They should be playing with toys and watching shows with characters that don’t look like them.

Parents should seek out play dates with children that don’t look like them and relationships with those children’s parents. If able, travel to places with people and cultures that are different than them. Teach them to be responsible by being respectful of people who are different.

White children cannot learn about racism through their lived experiences because they don’t experience racism. But if we teach them to be comfortable around people who are physically different than them, we can teach them to be open to understanding that other’s experiences can also be different from their own.

Black people in America learn two history lessons. One is the Whitewashed incomplete picture of the Civil Rights movement that primarily focuses on Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) and falsely narrates the Civil Rights Movement as peaceful. The other is the home education that teaches us the cruelties of slavery, the violent responses to the Civil Rights Movement, how MLK was hated while he was alive, and our own familiar ties to oppression.

If White parents taught their children the whole picture, maybe people would not be so surprised when instances of police brutality continue to happen. Our fight for Civil Rights has always been dangerous, emotional, and violent for Black people. As our children grow, we need to help them understand the complete picture of slavery, reconstruction, and the past/ongoing Civil Rights movements.

Obviously I’m not saying to traumatize your child, but these hard conversations need to start early. You cannot expect an adult to understand oppression if they were never exposed to it as a child. Again, returning to the idea of lived experiences and learned experiences, Black children do not get the privilege of being protected from learning about racism. Even if they don’t learn it, they experience it. Shielding a white child from learning the hard truth about this country’s history of racism perpetuates the lived experiences of racism that Black people experience.

What are three changes I can make in my SLP practice to decrease systemic racism in my therapy room and increase equality?

Representation

Buy materials with (non-stereotypical) representation of BIPOC. Preferably by BIPOC creators. Also, don’t just buy them because you have a Black child or a Latino child in your room. Let your patients/clients/students (especially children), regardless of race, be accustomed to seeing people that don’t look like them. A class with 100% White children should have picture books with BIPOC children. Majority BIPOC classrooms always have picture books with White children because that is the majority of published books.

Continuing Education

How many courses have you taken on culturally and linguistically diverse issues? Typically we take CEUS that represent the skill set and populations that we work with. If we serve a population that is 90% children with ASD, we probably take a lot of CEUs on Autism. If we have a caseload that’s 90% adults with Dysphagia, we are going to take coursework on swallowing. Why are we not doing the same with race and culture? If your population is 90% ESOL, you should be taking multiple courses on second language acquisition. If your caseload is 90% African American you should be taking courses to be an expert in AAE. If you work in a hospital with 75% Black patients, you should be reading public health articles about the health disparities that disproportionately affect Black people and lead to diagnoses of the diseases that lead to Stroke & subsequently the disorders that medical SLPs treat.

Assessment

Too often we see assessment of dialect speakers and ESOL speakers as being the responsibility of our bilingual and bidialectal SLPs. If you have a largely Black, AAE speaking caseload, you absolutely should be an expert in AAE. We also need to be modifying our assessment protocol based on the socioeconomic status and race of the people we work with, specifically by incorporating dynamic assessment and narratively describing any modifications made to testing. Our standardized tests are normed on White, middle to upper-middle class children. We should not be relying on numbers to make a diagnosis.

What would make your life easier as an SLP? 

More White SLPs doing the work to be culturally competent and examining their biases. Also better pay.

What words or phrases do you find offensive that I might not even notice?

Hmmm…not necessarily things that offend me, but things that annoy me. People need to understand the difference between race, ethnicity, and nationality. Not all Black people are African Americans. For example, I am bicultural. My dad is Afro Puerto Rican. My mom is African American. My race is Black. My nationality is American. My ethnicities are African American and Latina (Puerto Rican). It’s important to understand that not all Black people in this country have a monolithic experience.

Also, be intentional when you use the terms POC (People of Color) or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). When you are talking about an issue specific to the Black community, use the word Black. When you are talking about an issue that may be generalized to multiple groups, POC or BIPOC may be appropriate.

Another one is “I don’t see color”—see my comments above about raising children.

How can we get more black SLP’s into this field and why do you think it’s a worthwhile cause?

We need to be encouraging our high schoolers. Many Black and other BIPOC people do not learn about this field until they are halfway through undergrad or even after undergrad. Often times their GPAs are not competitive enough or the cost of student loans in comparison to our salary may not be worth the extra schooling needed to complete coursework to apply for grad school. Also, SLP programs are often inaccessible because it’s difficult to work while in school. There are some barriers that are systemic and difficult to solve. However, I think one thing we can do is provide better mentorship opportunities to BIPOC students to help better prepare students for the competitive path to SLP. It needs to start at the high school level. If you have a family friend who has a child in high school, talk to them about the field. Offer to serve as a mentor for them in college.

It’s a worthwhile cause because our race and culture often dictate our communication and the way we eat. We need SLPs who understand the culture and the dialects to better serve the language and also the dietary needs of our patients/clients/students. When you are assessing a Black AAE speaking child’s language, are you taking a child’s dialect in mind? When you are making diet recommendations for a Korean patient, are you considering their cultural diet or are you making assumptions based on your culture’s diet?

Do you have any favorite picture books or games that you’d like to share?

Not really. A lot of my work has been in diagnostics. I can share some of my favorite resources though:

How would you share your passion for Speech Pathology with the world if money and time were no object? 

Well, I would love to present more at conferences. Another way that I get to do that is through my Instagram stories. I make a lot of stories about Black History and I have intertwined my job as an SLP into discussions about AAE, the school to prison pipeline, etc. @ayejackayyy

Community Action Items

If you’re anything like me, you need a bit to digest all of this information. I like to end each interview with my key action items that I take away from the interview. Here they are:

  • Go through the links on this page and explore the cultural considerations for the field of speech-language pathology
  • Follow Jackie on Instagram because she’s definitely one to watch. She’s going places (Can you please run for an ASHA office?)
  • Be intentional when you use the terms POC (People of Color) or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)
  • Fill your speech room with colorful, beautiful diversity (You’ll notice a shift in my recommended materials towards this endeavor)
  • Talk about diversity and differences, don’t ignore them

Comment below if you can relate to what Jackie shared. I’d love to hear from our SLP community and learn more!

5 thoughts on “Antiracism for SLP’s | An Interview with Jackie Rodriguez”

  1. You are beautiful, brilliant, and a blessing to people that comes in contact with you. Great read and will definitely share with others. Everyone is different yet can be alike in many ways. Your conversation is just like this article. Wish we spent more time together @ NES

  2. Thank you sweet Jackie for your incredible insight. I am so grateful to not only call you colleague but friend. Blessings to you as you guide us to be better SLP’s and better humans.

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