Diversity in Departments: Comm science aims to remove bias from treatment

by Nathanael King / Beacon Staff • March 17, 2016

Emerson says it’s working toward creating a more inclusive environment, and each department has set goals to improve their curricula. Each week, the Beacon will feature the plans for an academic department. Previous installments include writing, literature, and publishing, visual and media arts, journalism, marketing communication, and communication studies, and performing arts.

 

Students in the communication sciences and disorders department need to understand the cultural and ethnic backgrounds of their patients, according to Amit Bajaj, an associate professor and undergraduate program director.

Bajaj said these backgrounds affect the way patients see the parts of their speech they want to change, and possible stigmas attached to them. He said students needed to take a culturally unbiased approach to treatment.

“One has a tendency to sometimes stereotype, because that becomes the easy way of trying to understand somebody who’s coming from a different cultural position,” Bajaj said.

Faculty in department are reviewing their curriculum to be sure that it includes issues of diversity, inclusion, and cultural competency, according to Joanne Lasker, associate professor and curriculum and capstone coordinator.

“The idea of communicating with people of different backgrounds and abilities exists probably in the bulk or the majority of our course work,” Lasker said.

Lasker said she did not think the students were unhappy with the way the department handled those topics.

Daniel Kempler, a professor and communication sciences and disorders program coordinator, said the Robbins Speech, Language, and Hearing Center—located in the Union Bank Building—provided graduate students in the department the opportunity to work with patients from a variety of backgrounds.

The center offers treatment and services to people on the autism spectrum, people wanting to modify their accents, and transgender patients seeking voice modification. Undergraduate students also have the opportunity to volunteer in the Robbins Center and observe the services offered.

The department is trying to recruit a more diverse student body, according to Kempler. Currently, its students are mostly white women. He said they’ve been working with admissions to improve the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the major.

It also sponsors a high school intern through the Science Club for Girls, a Massachusetts organization that works to foster interest and opportunities for young women from “underrepresented groups” in STEM fields. Both these programs are meant to serve as pathways to Emerson, according to Kempler.

Bajaj said the department was attempting to recruit transfer students from local community colleges, specifically Roxbury Community College and Bunker Hill Community College. He said it was important to keep Emerson courses affordable for these students.

Kempler said the department was holding monthly conversations run by and for students about issues of cultural competency and diversity. They held the first two of these sessions during Martin Luther King, Jr. Week. Kempler said the department wants to create a safe space for students.

He said the faculty was undergoing their own training. Already, they received an introductory session on Title IX, a gender equity law, from coordinator Pamela White. Robert Amelio, director of diversity and inclusive excellence, is scheduled to meet with the faculty to discuss how they can incorporate his department’s practices into the curricula.

Gregory Massimino-Garcia, a sophomore in the department and student of color, said he hadn’t had problems with professors in the department.

“All the teachers are usually very careful about what they say,” Massimino-Garcio said. “I think all of them do a really great job.”