THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNICATION AND THE LASTING EFFECTS OF INSTITUTIONALIZED RACISM

Roslyn Garner

By Lauren Madrigal & Ariana Palomo

May 21, 2020

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Roslyn Garner has been a speech pathologist for the past 21 years. After graduating from Southwest Texas State University, she went on to pursue a Masters of Science in Communication Disorders at Southwest Texas State University. She currently works helping develop students with learning and speech impediments at Rountree Elementary school. The work that she has done in speech pathology has had an incredible impact on the future of her students.

For me, it was very helpful. I am the youngest of eight and grew up with a single mother in San Antonio. I had an aunt and uncle who took me in as like I was theirs and protected me a lot, they were big role models. I also had many teachers who knew my background, but didn’t hold it against me and didn’t feel sorry for me. They pushed me because they could see my potential. Having someone outside of your own family see that in you and nurture you in that aspect, really helps guide how kids grow and that is what some people are missing. When I was younger, everybody took care of everybody. All the neighborhood families knew each other. I couldn’t even go down the street without getting in trouble or someone looking out for me and I think we are missing some of that. Some kids, outside of school, don’t have a role model to see how to live life. Life is changing and evolving and you take different paths as you go through it. Just being able to see that and having someone nurture you and love you outside of your family is huge for students in helping them stay motivated and focused on their goals.

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"Life is changing and evolving and you take different paths as you go through it."

"Life is changing and evolving and you take different paths as you go through it."

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"Students that live in poverty, hear about a million less words by the time they are five years old that are read to them than students who grow up in homes with parents who are educated."

"Students that live in poverty, hear about a million less words by the time they are five years old that are read to them than students who grow up in homes with parents who are educated."

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"That is the biggest part, the negative attitude of just seeing someone and based on their skin color or their accent or their last name, having those preconceived notions about what they can or cannot do or what you should or should not expect from them."

"That is the biggest part, the negative attitude of just seeing someone and based on their skin color or their accent or their last name, having those preconceived notions about what they can or cannot do or what you should or should not expect from them."

At A&M it definitely affected me. I was a female and black in the Corps of Cadets, which is hard enough. I felt very isolated because when you are in the Corps of Cadets it is like being in the military going to school at the same time that freshman year . I felt very isolated because I couldn’t really make friends. Once I got to Texas State, it was very different. There was a Black Student Union that I could be a part of and even though our numbers were low, we had a way of getting together, forming a culture, and helping each other out. I know those numbers still haven’t changed drastically. My husband graduated from A&M and his experience was very different as well, he saw the fact that he had to work twice as hard to get the same recognition. I think that that is something that I have tried to teach my daughters that I didn’t want to teach: sometimes you may have to do extra in order for people to take you seriously.

"Sometimes you may have to do extra in order for people to take you seriously."

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"Even though we want the world to be so different, while it is different, in some ways it hasn’t changed at all."

"Even though we want the world to be so different, while it is different, in some ways it hasn’t changed at all."

Speech pathology is a field that holds a significant impact on the future of children with learning impediments. This field allows for the learning impediment to be addressed early on and as a result, allows for the child to develop oral and written language skills. Not only are these skills crucial throughout their academic and professional careers, but they are substantial forms of communication in every aspect of an individual’s life. Fundamentally, as a speech pathologist, you impact the future of students every day, directing them a step closer to success. Did you always aspire to be a speech pathologist? What influenced your choice in such an influential career path? How has being a speech pathologist changed your perspective on the role of communication in our society today and the future? 

 

I originally wanted to be a computer engineer but changed to speech pathology after my first year. After this first year, I went home and saw therapists work in the field with some of my family members; this was the catalyst to my changing career paths. I returned to school and went through with no break between my undergraduate and masters degree in science and communication disorders; this was what my heart wanted to do. I have been doing this for 21 years. Every year is different, every year I learn something new, and I continue to grow through the process of doing this. This year especially, my technology skills have increased greatly in the past two months in trying to get students to engage by zoom when many already have a hard enough time engaging in person. 

 

With the current state of quarantine, people are having to rely on their communication skills now more than ever.  I think we are losing some of those nonverbal aspects of language that kids are not learning and that act in the ability of an academia and once they get out into the workforce – skills from interacting with people nonverbally. I think that people often overlook how important both verbal and nonverbal communication is with regards to how we connect with others. Verbal communication also greatly impacts written communication as students move through school and eventually the workforce. You have to be strong in both your verbal and non verbal communication in order to pursue higher education and highly professional careers.

Whether it is professionally or personally, the encounters that you have shared with different individuals have in a way impacted who you are today. Your career calls for active interactment with children. You serve as a role model for all of the students that you help advance as a speech pathologist and your two daughters, Vivienne who is 16, and Grace who is 13. The idea of being a role model is not one that has been recently introduced, this is something you have been doing and have been exposed to your entire life. You have served as a role model to family, friends, strangers. How impactful do you believe having a role model has been for you, and how significant is having a role model for the development of a child?

Head start, early childhood education, was created to prepare America’s vulnerable youth in order to allow for success not only in school, but beyond their academic careers. These programs work to anticipate and understand a child’s behavior and development, allowing for learning impediments to be detected and, as a result, treated from a very young age. These learning impediments have the power to strongly impact  the future of the individual, and detecting it and treating it at an earlier stage will allow for more efficient treatment. However, Head Start programs are not considered to be widely available. What do you believe needs to be done in order to increase availability of Head Start programs and what effect do you think it can have on the future of individuals who do suffer from a speech or learning impediment? 


Where I currently work we don’t have a Head Start program. However, I  believe that Head Start programs should be mandated. It is a federal program that school districts can take part of if they want to, but they don't have to. You have a whole segment of a population who is denied access to early education, that needs it, with teachers who are trained and know how to guide them and nurture them and get them caught up to speed. We all know that one of the leading indicators for language and early literacy is how much a student is read to. There are studies that show that students that live in poverty, hear about a million less words by the time they are five years old that are read to them than students who grow up in homes with parents who are educated. I know Texas just passed a bill regarding full day preschool, but that doesn’t start until the age of four. Head Start kids can start at three, those two years as opposed to one can really help guide kids in the right direction and it allows them to receive those services early. So many of these families do not realize that schools provide speech therapy services for free beginning at the age of three. However, when students are part of a Head Start program, they are screened, they can be tested quicker, and they can be offered those services while they are at school.

Many people have the privilege of not realizing that the impacts of institutionalized racism are still very much present in today’s society. As a result of the country’s past relations with African Americans, the effects of institutionalized racism have resulted in a continued lack of resources and opportunity for many, with African Americans having the highest percentage of individuals in poverty out of any minority. In what ways have you encountered, not blatant, but a more subversive form of racism, that has forced you to overcome obstacles that, say a white american, wouldn’t encounter in their endeavors? 

 

When I was studying to be a speech pathologist, I was the only African American in my program, in both undergraduate and graduate school. Once I started in the field, working in clinics and hospitals, there typically was not another black SLP around. In my previous school district, I had – one out of the fifteen years – in which I had another African American SLP. At my current school district, there is one other. Two years ago we had three, and now there are two of us. We approach things differently. I have a different background based on how I grew up, compared to people who grew up in a predominantly white society. I’ve always had a different perspective, and I've always felt the need to explain why. I do evaluations for new students coming in and I meet new families. I have talked to families over the phone and when they come in, they are shocked, they were not expecting to see my brown face. I’ve had that said blatantly, I’ve had that said subtly, and I’ve had it said to other people – “that was not what I was expecting” “are you sure she is the speech pathologist” – absolutely, it’s me, I am certified, I am very capable. 


I have had the privilege of having both. In my graduate program my clinic director was not a fan of minorities, and we all knew that. I had a friend who was of Pilipino descent and a Hispanic colleague. We all knew that we had to go above and beyond to get the same grade that somebody else would because he didn’t think that we were supposed to be there. I think that is the biggest part, the negative attitude of just seeing someone and based on their skin color or their accent or their last name, having those preconceived notions about what they can or cannot do or what you should or should not expect from them. Even now, more than 20 years into my career, people are shocked when they walk in and see me. Which should not be the case in 2020.

Although government subsidies assist those in poverty to an extent, there aren’t many programs aimed to help individuals escape it. Many economic scientists call this the Cycle of Poverty, stating that “poverty causes poverty and traps people in it unless an external intervention is applied to break the cycle.” Growing up in the projects of San Antonio, would you say this theory is accurate? If so,  what allowed you to create your own narrative and redefine the expected outcomes of your future?

 

I do believe this is true. If you are in poverty and your entire family is in poverty, if one thing goes wrong there is no one there to help you. It is this continual cycle of getting deeper and deeper in a hole for some families. I had the luxury of a mom who, even though she was a single mom, valued education extremely. We were going to go to school, we were going to do well; that was not optional. However, she didn’t know much about secondary education. She wanted you to graduate high school and she wanted you to get a job because that is what she knew. I had teachers and counselors who felt like I should do more, and they pushed me to make sure that I took the right tests and the right classes so that I could be in line to go further. With the support of my mom valuing education, but not really understanding how much more valuable that secondary education was and the combination of teachers who pushed me, I was able to strive and get out. I have seven siblings. There are three of us masters degrees and above, two of us have associates degrees, and the remainder just have high school diplomas. The difference is reflected in our lifestyles based on that education. I really believe education is the key and I would love to see the United States follow after many countries where college is free so that you level that playing field for people to be able to advance themselves and it is not based on who your family is and can you afford to go. Even when I was at school, I had to work a full time job all the way through. I had to worry about whether I would pay my rent, my car insurance, or was I going to eat. Those things take away from your studies. I think that if we can level that plain field by taking away college tuition so that you can go and just focus on school without worrying about being in debt or how you are going to get that need met, we could help get rid of that system in poverty. We won’t ever get rid of all of it because we all have choices and people can choose to further themselves or not, but I think that that would be a great way to start to level the playing field for minorities, for immigrants who come here and are the second in generation from their home country. Having them be able to navigate that easier will go a long way in easing a lot of our poverty issues.

Today, at Texas A&M, where you studied for one year, the percentage of African American students at the university is 3 percent. At what is now known as Texas State, the percentage is 9.8 percent. When you attended these schools, these numbers were significantly lower. How did this affect your experience in college? Did you ever face discrimination or feel as though you had to work harder than your peers who were not people of color? How has this developed who you have become in both your career and as a mother?

I do believe that sometimes I have been too hard on them, but I know what people see when they look at them. I know what some people are thinking when they see them come through and I know that on a piece of paper for school, because they are a minority, they are being tracked for a certain set of numbers just for their ethnicity. I have pushed them because even though we want the world to be so different, while it is different, in some ways it hasn’t changed at all. As much as I would like to think that they can just be on their own merit, with their own intelligence and with what they can do, and be judged by that, I know that they won’t be. I push them because I know what outside people see in them.