Student Highlights Importance of Increasing SLP Diversity
By Eric Breier
Ashley Gallardo never could have imagined a career in speech-language pathology when she moved to Southern California from Guam to pursue higher education.
Gallardo attended Long Beach City College before transferring to Cal State Fullerton to study communications. But it was almost a decade from the time she started until she received her bachelor’s. College was put on hold for many of those years so Gallardo could care for her father after he suffered a debilitating stroke.
It was from that tragedy that Gallardo found a new calling.
“That is actually how I was introduced to the world of speech pathology,” Gallardo said. “I didn't even know it existed. I learned, first and foremost, from the caregiver side. And then I was like, ‘Wow, this is a really interesting domain. I think I could really get into this.’ And even though my father did pass, I think he would be very proud of that.”
Gallardo completed her studies in communications at Fullerton after her father’s death, but learning through his health struggles about speech, swallowing and communication issues faced by stroke victims left a lasting impression.
As Gallardo began researching speech-language pathology programs, she was drawn to Cal State San Marcos’ master’s program because of its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
The speech-language pathology field is composed of 92% white females, and few of the people of color are Asian Pacific Islander Desi American. Gallardo wants to be part of changing that number, and her achievements in advancing CSUSM’s goals in the areas of diversity, inclusive excellence, educational equity and social justice were recently recognized by President Ellen Neufeldt, who presented Gallardo with the President’s Student Champion Award for Inclusive Excellence and Diversity at the university’s All Peoples Luncheon on Oct. 12.
“I'm honored,” Gallardo said. “And even though I'm a communications grad and an SLP major, I was speechless when I found out.”
Gallardo has been an integral member of the student organization Students of Speech and Language for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (SSLIDE), a group that grew out of discussions that speech-language pathology faculty and staff organized to help students struggling in the wake of the George Floyd murder. SSLIDE aims to increase diversity in the SLP field, address health disparities in diverse populations, and increase education around systemic racism.
Gallardo volunteered to chair SSLIDE’s marketing subgroup and wrote a vision statement that received unanimous approval from the members:
We will change the face of speech-language pathology through inclusion, diversity, and equity. We will set the precedent of diversity in the SLP world by elevating awareness and taking righteous action.
“A unique feature of the SLP department is that we have a student-led group that is tied into the department’s DEI strategic plan,” said speech-language pathology professor Sue Moineau, who nominated Gallardo for the President’s Student Champion Award. “Ashley put in noteworthy effort researching DEI initiatives, presenting at our monthly meetings and following up across various entities to ensure that all student, faculty and staff voices were heard and represented in the vision and in the marketing plan that was evolving in 2020."
Gallardo’s work with SSLIDE led to other notable opportunities. She participated in a leadership panel for student inclusion and diversity at Cal State Northridge and at the California Speech Language Hearing Association Conference earlier this year. Gallardo also is part of a CSUSM team that developed a presentation called “Taking Righteous Action – Changing SLP Diversity Statistics Through the Creation of Student Organizations,” which the group will present next month at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention.
Gallardo completed CSUSM’s post-baccalaureate SLP preparatory program last year and will graduate with her master’s in May 2023. In addition to the faculty and staff of CSUSM’s speech-language pathology department, she said the support of her family has been vital, including her husband, Steven, their three young children and her sister, Nicole Williams, who helped care for their father. And Gallardo is looking forward to a career dedicated to helping young children in a Title 1 elementary school, which include children from a high percentage of low-income families.
“Ashley is a dedicated and conscientious student who has maintained exceptional grades while engaging in extracurricular activities aimed at increasing diversity in the field of speech-language pathology,” Moineau said. “Not only does she represent diversity within the field, but she is also a strong advocate for inclusionary practices and equitable treatment for all.
“Her contributions thus far reflect a student committed to CSUSM’s goals of creating access, fostering success, and practicing inclusive excellence by setting and maintaining a welcoming climate for all.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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