Danielle Scorrano: Welcome Indigo Young, to the READ Podcast. How are you Indigo?
Indigo Young: I'm doing well. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
DS: Thank you for being here. I have to tell our READ listeners that we are recording on International Women's Day. I'm inspired by other women. I'm inspired by your work, so I'm so excited for you to be on the podcast with me today. How are you doing personally and professionally during the pandemic?
IY: You know, I'm doing fine. It's definitely been an interesting adjustment, but now a full year in I'm finally more or less fluent with zoom. So that definitely helps things.
DS: Definitely. I was so excited to talk to you that I forgot to ask you to introduce yourself! So, for all of our listeners, can you please give us a little information about who you are, your background?
IY: Sure. So I am a speech language pathologist. I have expertise in pediatrics and I really love developmental speech and language disorders. I have a background working in schools, but I currently hold an academic appointment at MGH Institute of Health Professions where I'm teaching master students who are on their way to becoming speech language pathologists. We also have a literacy specialist program, so I helped to co-teach some of the courses there as well.
DS: So I hear that MGH is a little different from other programs in speech, language pathology. What is it about that's so unique about the program when you were a student and as you're a faculty member?
IY: Yeah, I did go there for my master's degree and now I'm a faculty member there, so I do have an interesting perspective getting to see it through both lenses. But one of the main ways that we are unique from other programs is that we have a really heavy emphasis on literacy. We have researchers who are experts in the fields, and we understand that written language is part of this overall global language system. Our students have discrete courses in literacy and they have an onsite clinic that's specifically for written language intervention, so everybody leaves with a pretty solid foundation in literacy.
DS: That's amazing. When I was a teacher at The Windward School, we had speech language pathologists that actually worked directly with teachers, so I'm a big fan of any speech language pathologist. One of my best friends growing up is also an SLP. I really just admire and appreciate your work. Actually, I learned about your work initially on Dr. Tiffany Hogan's podcast, SeeHearSpeak. And when I was listening to the way that you discussed anti-oppressive speech and language pathology, and therapy. I was just so eager to learn more. Can you tell me a little bit more about that area of expertise and how you really became invested in it?
IY: Sure. So that came directly out of my work in the schools, both as a speech language pathologist and then also as a literacy interventionist. Before I became an SLP, I was working in the public schools and I was able to see firsthand how oppressive schools can be even by well-meaning clinicians. And so I became really invested in figuring out how I can support my students who have marginalized identities and how I can make sure that what I was doing with kids was uplifting, even given environments that might not lend themselves that well to that. So I spent a lot of my own time researching and reading and trying out strategies. And when I had the opportunity for an academic appointment, I was really excited to sort of increase my ripple effect.
I felt like I was doing a decent job with my caseload of kids, but the thought of being able to make sure that a future SLPs were going out and thinking about things in an anti-oppressive lens is really exciting for me. So I've been able to build out some curriculum for our first year master students that's embedded within their clinical learning and is all about anti-oppressive practice. So that's been really neat.
DS: As I think about your work and the work that I've been doing with Windward and at Hopkins, I'm in a doctorate program there, I think about diversity, equity and inclusion, and I'm reminded of Wink’s statement that truly, “We in education are mirrors of society.” We see all these areas in society and in schools, in which oppression and racism are fundamentally present in our kids' lives. And they do affect the most vulnerable populations, the black, indigenous, and children of color. You talk about anti-oppressive intervention. What do you mean by anti-oppressive interventions? Can you define it for our listeners?
IY: What we mean by that is, a practice which is purposely looking to reduce inequitable outcomes and to increase feelings of inclusion, not just feelings, but of actual practice of inclusion and belonging via our educational strategies. It's rooted in a few different theoretical models, including aspects of critical race theory, and also anti-oppressive practice in education. It really revolves around understanding that there are power differences and social differences that are embedded within society that are impacting individuals and children, and that we have to disrupt it. Otherwise it will perpetuate on its own.
DS: You talk about critical race theory. I mean, can you provide a little more context about what that is to a new listener who just is hearing this term for the first time.
IY: So critical race theory is a way of understanding how racism plays out in society. And there's a couple of aspects that are really important for anti-oppressive practice. And one of those is this idea that racism is not special or rare or unusual. It is embedded within the fabric of our society. So just sort of like a starting point is that. our systems are racist. The other part that I think is really important, that's part of anti-oppressive practice is this idea of centering the margins. You look at who in your setting or in your society is sort of being pushed out, which identities are being pushed to the sides, and then you focus your effort there. This idea that if we're uplifting the most marginalized communities, we're going to be making things more equitable and inclusive. I think those two parts are really important for anti-oppressive practice because we are acknowledging that students are living racialized experiences, sexualized experiences, and we can't ignore it because it's a part of who they are and a part of how they're experiencing school and the rest of the world.
DS: Absolutely. We were discussing in a meeting earlier today just how young some of these experiences and acknowledgement of identity are truly embedded from such a young age. So I think it's really important, important work to intervene and incorporate that type of work with students in education. One of the other interesting thoughts that I had was I hear a lot of other terms like cultural competency or NAIS is using decolonized curriculum. So how is an anti-oppressive intervention similar or different from those types of terms? And are there other types of language that's being used for this work?
IY: Yeah, there's quite a bit of overlap, I think, especially with decolonized curriculum, it focuses on centering around the idea of power and questioning whose norms are considered the basis where classically cultural competence is more about developing specific knowledge and skills for working with, certain populations, which is important.
That is part of anti-oppressive practice but it sort of indicates that once you reach a level of competency or proficiency, you can like check off the box and say, yes, I've learned what I need to learn about XYZ population. I'm good to go where things like decolonize education and anti-oppressive practice,have aspects of cultural humility, which is this idea that it's this ongoing process.
You have to be receptive to the other, willing to evaluate and change. So, there are multiple terms sort of looking at similar ideas. I think that as long as a body of work is looking at power then we'll be hitting on what we need to hit on to make meaningful change.
DS: Yeah. I really appreciate how you said that it's ongoing and continuous because I think that's one, from my perspective, a misconception, right? That you're going to build these competencies. You're going to get to a certain outcome and then you check a box. But this is an ever continuous ongoing work in this ongoing journey.
I did read more on your website. First of all, I loved your website and we'll definitely going include it in the resources for our READ listeners, but you did identify three main goals of an anti-oppressive curriculum. What are those three goals?
IY: One is to put cultural sensitivity at the forefront of the clinical relationship. I think that it’s really important that we're not thinking about these topics as being like in a site or an extra, or just in case. I feel like that that was the way I was trained to a degree that, you know, this is how you do speech language pathology, but youput a little asterisk next to it that if that person happens to be linguistically diverse or not white, then you'll do X, Y, and Z to sort of accommodate that.
I really want things to shift that we're not having an asterix for people who are in a marginalized identity, and that we are always working from that lens that is foundational. So that's one of my first goals. Another goal is to be equity seeking, which means acknowledging that there are disparate outcomes in healthcare and medicine and school and education and be purposely working to correct those. And then third, Increase inclusion and belonging. One thing that we do as part of our anti-oppressive practice at MGH Institute is we think a lot about representation in our curriculum and in our materials that we're using with students. If a client of this identity was interacting with these materials, would they feel proud or would they feel happy or would they feel like their identities are something to be ashamed of or that their identities are negative?
In all of our choices that we're making, we're making sure that children are feeling proud and uplifted. It’s also important for non-minoritized students to be able to see positive and accurate representations of other people too.
DS: Yes. You talk a lot about bias. I do want to ask you a question about bias in a few minutes, but I think what you said that really resonated with me was this aspect of cultural sensitivity that's embedded in how we approach language. When I think of language, it’s such a cognitively demanding process. It integrates all the aspects of content, form and pragmatics. And with that as well, integrated, embedded, not supplemental is this aspect of culture that students bring as well as teachers and everyone working in educational environments. We actually spoke to Dr. Julie Washington last August, and she said something that really resonated with me. She said, “One of the things that differs the most cross-culturally is language. Yet we judge people by the way, we use language.” So we think about how important culture and language are in how we treat our students. How do practitioners, either speech language pathologists or educators, approach learners who are diverse linguistically?
IY: Yeah. That's such an important topic and a lot of the research shows that. Many speech pathologists don't feel that comfortable in working with linguistically diverse, populations, so this is sort of an area of weakness in my field that a lot of people are working to correct. But Dr. Washington's words are correct that language is culture. I teach, I co-teach a course, which is called Teaching Language and literacy to English Language Learners. We talk a lot about language socialization. You're always learning language in your social environment. They're inherently connected. It’s really impossible to disconnect your socialized experience as you're learning language. And so I think one of the most important things that educators can do is to question this idea of normal. I think that and again, I can speak for my field in particular that in speech language pathology, we are often considering a middle class monolingual white language as the default and anything that's not, that is other are different. I mean, we need to measure how different is and maybe sort of shape it more towards what we feel most comfortable with. And so I think what's really important is to just to foundationally question that and say you know, whose language am I thinking is good language, whose “normal” am I using? Why is it important for this child to learn this particular skill and to make sure that we are truly working on problems and not just differences, but it's really hard. It's very embedded into our school fabric and into our society about what good language means. Those are frequently coming from stereotypes about whose language is good and whose language is not.
DS: Right. Right. And it's almost like re conceptualizing what we think about the social pragmatics of language, how that fits in the academic discourse. We actually, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to you last week on Friday. We talked a little bit about code switching and about the social pragmatics of language. So does that all fit into the framework of looking at the language and differences of children as they come into school environments.
IY: Yes. Absolutely. There is a a black SLP group that came into being around the seventies. It's called the National Association for Black Speech Language and Hearing. Hopefully I got that word order correct. It came to be because in the seventies, a group of black SLPs were few and far between. We're at a national convention for our organizing body and realize that black language was being pathologized by schools and SLPs and the medical system. So this whole organization came out of this need to stop the pathologizing of black language. And I think that we still see quite a bit of that in modern day times code switching is a skill, but we talked a bit about last week about, you know, who is expected to code switch and for whose comfort. AAE is an intact, complete grammatical version of English, it is whole, it is complete. It's beautiful. And we're asking people to switch out of that for the comfort of, of who. So I think, yeah, when we're thinking about code switching, it's important to ask the why and the so what behind it.
DS: So let's add a scenario where you have a child who is an English language learner, or a child who does speak AAE, and they also have a language deficit, whether it's a developmental language disability, or dyslexia. What are some of the implications for screening, evaluation and even intervention in some of the work that you've been doing?
IY: Yeah. I love this topic because I think that we should always be looking through this lens of, you know, what is the socialization? What's the culture? What's appropriate? And when my [graduate] students on our onsite clinic have kids like this who have a language disorder and they have a difference in their linguistic background, it becomes really important for us to consider that linguistic background. If we don't know enough, then we have to talk to people who speak that dialect, maybe do some research into like what phonemes are in that dialect, what patterns we can expect. And we have to be careful, too, in figuring out, is what we're seeing because of a difference versus a disorder and sift through those. I know we also spoke a bit about linguists and an SLP that I know named Dr. Tracy Connor. She does research on AAE and has found some specific markers like syntactic markers that are hallmark of disability versus difference with AAE speakers. We really need to be putting in more resources, more effort into understanding this with broader language backgrounds. We have to be careful that we know what we're talking about and if we don't know enough about that language or that language pattern that we have to do our research and talk to people who do know.
DS: That's interesting. I remember you mentioned Dr. Tracy Connor in our meeting last week and she will definitely be a resource that I'd be interested in reading more about. As we talk about screening, evaluation and intervention, I want to focus more broadly on anti-oppressive practices in school. You had mentioned bias in an early part of our conversation. Bias exists in any environment. It can have profound impacts on student of colors and students with disabilities. I mean, it's one thing that I always used to think about when I was teaching my students with dyslexia at Windward. And when I listened to your episode with Dr. Hogan on SeeHearSpeak, you identified six main types of bias. I think for me, when I listened to this, I truthfully listened to it about four or five times because it was something that I had never really come to really learn explicitly. Can you identify each of these types of bias and provide an example of each?
IY: Sure. So I'll name them for you first and then I'll go back through quickly and give an example of each. The six we talk about in my setting are invisibility, stereotyping, imbalance and selectivity, unreality, fragmentation and isolation. And then the last is linguistic bias.
An example of invisibility is just leaving certain people out of the text, out of the story, out of the curriculum. So you can ask yourself who is missing from the text. A good example is talking about heroes from the past, and then, it happens to only be men and there are no women involved.
Stereotyping is a bit easier to get like when you think of gender stereotyping or racial stereotyping. It’s forcing people or groups of people into rigid roles and, and adhering to those rigid rules.
Imbalance and selectivity bias is a little more subtle than invisibility. They may have more than one group represented, but they're not doing it in a balanced or necessarily a fair way. So, another example from like a history curriculum might be talking about the establishment of the United States and talking purely through the settlers lens and not spending enough time or giving a good nuanced explanation of the indigenous people's experience at that same time period.
Unreality is this idea of glossing over the truth. So maybe you are including factual details, but you're not including the specifics of the social issues. So I like to talk about a couple of egregious textbook examples. When I talk about this one that was actually in print before, you know, families got up in arms and have the schools changed them. This is a history textbook talking about the Atlantic slave trade. And I'm referring to enslaved people as a workers, rather than calling them enslaved people or suggesting that that indigenous people just moved to make space or the settlers rather than, you know, talking about genocide. They are talking about some factual details, but really painting it in a way that prevents people from being able to really understand the truth of what happened and to make a really informed opinion and understanding.
Fragmentation and isolation is another way of othering a group of people. So maybe you are including information about indigenous people, or maybe you are including women heroes in your conversation, but maybe it's just a little box or it's a special day or event. It is not truly embedded into the curriculum. So again, we're sort of reinforcing that this is normal. You know, this culture is normal, and this other kind of art is different, like ethnic art is different. Or these other authors are special. And we'll talk about them sometimes, but we're going to really focus on this main group of people. So just reinforcing that normal versus other.
The last is linguistic bias. And this is this idea that the very language that we use can carry bias, which is why it's really important to come back to re-examine what we, what we know. I talked to my students about this quite a bit because this is one of those, I mean, all biases can be accidental, but linguistic bias in particular. I know that I've re-examined some of the language that I've used before. And so you want to look for things like gendered language, sexist, or language learners.
I've been sharing my struggle with trying to reduce the amounts of ablest language. I have stopped saying things like crazy all the time. It's been really hard for me to nip that out of my lexicon. This idea that using certain kinds of languages reinforcing stereotypes. Those are the six that we like to focus on as we go through our intervention materials. We have a lot of free materials that were donated to our onsite clinic from big publishers. We use these forms of bias to go through and see is there invisibility happening? Is there a stereotype happening? And then we make decisions from there about whether or not we want to keep those materials or how we want to use them.
DS: I think these are important to talk about too, because they're only presenting a certain narrative and again, reinforcing some of these power dynamics. What do you say to teachers or educators or families or practitioners about how to even combat implicit bias? Because as you're going through some of these, such as language bias, I can see it it's it requires a deliberate practice to continuously check the language or use that may be coming from an implicit bias. So what do you say to adults that are working with kids that may be negatively reinforcing is implicit bias, but not realize it.
IY: Implicit bias is tricky because by the very nature of it, it is unknown. It's hidden to us. They exist sometimes in direct contradiction to our explicit beliefs or thoughts about ourselves. So, you know, it is a process. And so there are a couple of strategies that you can use to reduce internal bias or intrinsic implicit bias in yourself. One way that I think is really helpful is just to increase your contact with other types of people. One way that I think is good to do this is via social media. I mean, there are so many activists who are willingly sharing information to teach us. That is where I learned about ableist coded language. It wouldn't have come up for me in my regular social environments, I don't think. But it's listening to disabled activists saying, Hey, this language is problematic or harmful that I was able to recognize in myself and then apply it. You don't know what you don't know, so you have to give yourself opportunities to learn about other people.
I like to talk about activists because you know, that's what their work is rather than asking your friend or your colleague who happens to have those identities to help you figure out what you need to know. And then of course, to pay those advocates, advocates, or support their work, or re amplify their voices. Increasing opportunities for contact in a way where the power dynamics are good and it's collaborative and is backed up by the research as a way to help to decrease that. Another one that I love to suggest is giving yourself and your students counter stereotypic imaging. It’s this idea that this is a classic stereotype that we see it a lot, and it's reinforced a lot. I'm going to purposely counteract that with what I'm using. So some examples might be to make sure that you're showing women scientists, or men who are caregivers of children. That helps to sort of disrupt that automatic categorization that happens with intrinsic bias.
DS: I actually learned about the Washington model for the evaluation of bias from you, I shared it with my community, and they loved it. It breaks down those identifiers, evaluating certain curriculum materials for those biases. Can you tell us a little more about what that is?
IY: Yeah. So the Washington models are really helpful in a couple of ways when they talk about many of the same forms of bias that we just spoke of. They also help you to think about different identities to look out for. So if we think about all the identities that make up our culture and think about who might be marginalized within those like girls, people of color, disabled folks, people who speak a language that isn't English. We can think about how those different identities that might be impacted by these different biases. W at MGH Institute have really loved using the Washington models as well. We've adapted it to sort of modernize some of the language, be more inclusive, you know, making sure we're looking at gender identity. We're currently working on going through our decodable texts for our literacy interventions because there has been quite a lot of work done in terms of fiction books for children. I'm not saying we're there yet. There's still quite a bit of representation and diversity issues there, but not as much has been done with the decodable text. We're currently using the Washington models to look for things like stereotyping, fragmentation and visibility, linguistic bias within our decodable texts. That way we can be sure that we're not reinforcing any of those biases in our clients.
DS: That's a really great resource. What are your calls to expand more resources that promote anti-oppressive curriculum and pedagogy?
IY: There's a few things that I think school districts can easily do. That includes using some checklists to reference like the Washington models to evaluate for bias in curriculum. Also create task forces with diverse voices. We've done quite a bit of that in my setting, and we're making sure that that includes students, family members, making sure that we're not saying like, okay, where are the experts? We're going to be making these decisions, but it's taking on this shared decision-making for what's happening in order to make things more inclusive and equitable. Another thing that we have done, which I think would be great for other communities and schools is we have equity advocates, which are just faculty and staff who have gone through specific training in looking for bias in particular aspects of our work. These are people whose, you know, for a year or however long, the term is, it's their role to say, to be the people who say, wait a second, have you thought about this? Or wait a second, I'm noticing this so you know, not that it takes away the responsibility from everybody else, but we do have just sort of an extra check in and again, to just be discerning. I think so much of this work is for the interventionists for the educator. I mean, in my curriculum, we talk about it being sort of twofold. So there's client facing things, so choices that you're making in what materials you use and what assessments you use. But the other half of it is this sort of personal development. We also need to do direct action. But a lot of it is starting to question how do my identities inform my understanding of what's going on [with the students I work with]? To what degree am I seeing my own identities as normal and comparing others to my norm? In what ways am I forcing my experience and my culture onto other people because we have to know what our identities are and you have to know, you know, how we're reinforcing our version of normalcy in order to interrupt it. Both parts are really necessary that sort of internal ongoing self-reflection, ongoing review and learning. And then also these choices about what we're doing with kids and how we're advocating for them. It has to be two parts.
DS: I like how you broke those down first. I think it’s important to have the shared leadership, the shared decision-making and increasing that ownership across the entire culture of an organization. I think it's really powerful to think about that cultural capital that you may bring as in your identity, because some of it may not even be, may not be seen. It could be unseen, right. And really checking those identities and where those power dynamics lie, I think is important, especially from an educator. The one thing that I've been thinking about a lot with this type of work is, you know, over the past year, there's been such an increased focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in schools and also within the larger scope of system society. You talked about it being a discerning process. Do you see in your work, or just in the larger scope of society, any potential landmines or areas of caution?
IY: Yeah, I think there's two, there's two parts I am concerned about. I'm so happy that there's been this really intense interest, this fire for making change in the systems that we live in. But one thing I'm afraid of is burnout for both people of color who are doing this work and also for white folks who are newly doing this work or who have been doing this work and are looking to dive a little bit deeper for two reasons. One, there is some research that indicates that for folks who haven't had a lot of practice talking about race who haven't had to think about it much that there's not a lot of tolerance or endurance for it. It's possible that if somebody hasn't you know, spent a lifetime, having to think about race then it can be emotional, it can be cognitively difficult. And this idea of burnout for those folks could be an issue and, and making things run out of steam. Also for people of marginalized identities who are doing this work, too, and being asked to be the voice or being asked to be the ones who are making the change. It’s always best to have voices from the community that you're talking about to do the work, but, you know, we have to make sure that those people that they want to do the work that they're being respected, that they're being fairly compensated.
So burnout, that's one concern that I have. And the other one is this idea of maybe just checking boxes, you know, saying that the community is demanding, this or students are demanding this. And so we're going to do X, Y, and Z and say, yep, we've done it. We've done our anti-racism work, which, you know, as we've discussed, it's ongoing.
As society changes, we have to continue to change our approach and our thought processes to make sure that we're staying on top of the work.
DS: That's really good point. Now, alternatively, many of my colleagues actually attended the National Association of Independent Schools conference in February, and one of the final keynote speakers said that education is a hopeful enterprise. So what's giving you hope about the work that you're doing or what's happening in the broader educational community?
IY: Yeah. I have to tell you about, at times that I felt close to burn out, it's been my students who have really uplifted me, like they are coming into the field with so much passion. They're thoughtful. They're curious. Some of them have already done some deep diving into social justice and race and are really eager to find out how they can do that work as, as reading specialists or SLPs. And some have not had a lot of exposure but know that they want to do good work for people. Their optimism, their receptiveness is always really refreshing to me. So I can't help, but think that, you know, if I'm seeing every year 60 new master's students are going to work in the schools or in the medical setting and they're all really eager to make systemic change. It just makes me hopeful that that is going to be able to have that and it's going to happen with all these brilliant and passionate minds thinking about it and dedicated towards it.
DS: I love that. I am just fully energized by you, Indigo. I mean, there are so many things that I've learned in the past hour of talking with you. Are there other, any final resources or thoughts that you would like to share that we haven't spoken about yet?
IY: Sure. I want to talk a little bit about being an advocate in this work. It takes a lot of bravery, you know, sometimes you're speaking up, sometimes you're disrupting, and people aren't always going to be receptive of that. I just want it to acknowledge that it can be difficult work but important. There’s a great resource that might be helpful for listeners which used to be Teaching Tolerance, but they've rebranded to Learning for Justice and they have a resource called speaking up at schools.
It gives us a guidebook about how to, if you're noticing inequitable things happening in your school environment, how you can possibly speak up and it breaks it down to different levels. If you're seeing children on the playground saying things uyou need to speak to your direct supervisor or the principal is somebody who has more power than you do in that environment. I think just the practice of speaking up is something that takes some time to develop. That’s also just a really important because we can do all the personal work that we want and all the most sensitive and responsive interactions with our own students. But if we're not helping to make or see things that need to be changed in our greater environments, then the change is going to be minimized. That’s definitely going to be a resource that we share in addition to the Washington models for bias.
DS: You've talked so much about actionable resources and practice for educators and practitioners in the field. I'm just excited for this episode to air and for listeners to access all that you shared with us. So I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today.
IY: Yes. Thank you so much for having me be a part of the read podcast. This has been really cool.