As we continue the discussion on systemic racism, privilege, and power in our country, I asked one of the great Black leaders in our field to share her thoughts and ideas with us. Dr. Valarie B. Fleming is Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication Disorders at Texas State University.

Dr. Valarie B. Fleming photo
Dr. Valarie B. Fleming discusses Race, Privilege, and Power

Author: Dr. Valarie B. Fleming

Race, privilege, and power, words that do not appear in the “Big 9” areas of knowledge and skills needed for certification for future speech-language pathologists or audiologists. These words do not appear in any of our documents that we hold sacred in our profession. Not in our Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology (ASHA, 2016b) (race is mentioned in the Scope of Practice in Audiology) and not in the Vision or Mission statements for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA),

In the ASHA Code of Ethics (ASHA 2016a), there are the non-discrimination statements (Principle I-C and IV-L) as well as the mention of “power” related to sexual relationships (Principle IV-H) and “power” in the no harassment statement (Principle IV-G). While I have seen and heard countless experiences with racism by colleagues and students of color in this profession and have had people to confirm that they have faculty members that should not be interacting with students due to their racist beliefs, I have yet to see a single certified individual sanctioned for violations of any of those Principles of Ethics related to racists behaviors. But I digress….

We do have the allusion to and/or a brief overview of these topics in what we like to call “cultural competence” (Practice Portal- Professional Issues), but for the most part, the specific topics of race, privilege, and power in communication disorders are nearly non-existent. Very recently, ASHA published a position paper (ASHA, 2020) in which it condemned racism in response to an outcry from the membership for a stronger statement (Pietranton, 2020).

Prior to this occurrence, one could graduate from an accredited program, pass the national exam, complete their clinical fellowship, and never have had a deep and meaningful discussion of race, privilege, and power. Many may ask, “why this is important”? “What do race, privilege, and power have to do with communication sciences and disorders”? We all are privileged in some way, but privilege related to race (i.e., white privilege) impacts resource allocation. In a profession that is 94% white, we must be aware that the people we serve are impacted by race, privilege, and power. Not having privilege puts our clients at higher risk for health and educational inequities, health and educational disparities, and poorer health and educational outcomes (Harris, 2013). To attempt to become more culturally competent clinicians, we will have to dig deeper as a profession.  

I would like to challenge my beloved profession to start these profound conversations.

  • I enjoy seeing the visual support that various speech-related companies are putting out, but what I want to know is, what is the racial/ethnic composition of your board, your governing body, your faculty, your upper administration etc.? That is more revealing as to how you view race, privilege, and power, more than any statement you can post on social media. 
  • No matter your work setting, make sure that you consider the role of race, privilege, and power. Be it policies, procedures, admissions, whatever. Ask the hard questions. 
  • Prepare student clinicians to acknowledge their privilege and advantages and ask why they have them and what can they do to level the playing field. 
  • Truly engage in actionable items that move the needle on diversity, equity, and inclusion in our profession. Go beyond statements of support of Black professionals, students, and clients. Go beyond simple statements of condemnation of racism. Be a part of the solution. 


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2016a). Code of Ethics [Ethics]. Available from

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2016b). Scope of practice in speech-language pathology [Scope of Practice]. Available from

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2020). Response to Racism [Positions Statement].

Harris, J.L. (2013). Coordinator’s Column. Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Populations, 20(2), 37-38.

Pietranton, A.A. (2020, June 2). Email.

A Response: Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Speech-Language Therapy

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