Speaking hard truths – about CSHA, the profession
(From Spring 2021 Convey magazine)
By Raquel Narain, CCC-SLP, BCBA
CSHA Board Chair
This is a long column. But it’s an important one. I hope you’ll read it in its entirety because it can be argued that our collective future as an organization, profession and community depends on it.
CSHA is an important and critical player in the world of speech, language and hearing. From research and teaching to licensure and clinical practice, our lives, the lives of our colleagues and the lives of those we serve are lifted because of the work that CSHA has done for more than a half century.
It has been the sheer will of volunteers over five decades that has empowered CSHA to exist, and there is universal recognition and appreciation for that fact.
But what is also true is that our limited resources over those years prevented us from growing as a professional association. That reality amplifies the need for us as a nonprofit corporation to embed in our culture the embracing of continuous improvement so we can not only survive to serve another day, but grow even more impactful in our ability to serve our broader community.
In that spirit of continuous improvement, we have engaged attorneys, governance consultants, and diversity and inclusion consultants. We have listened, learned and worked diligently to improve by updating our bylaws, board policies and procedures, as well as modernizing our communications and technology.
And let me state this very clearly: We have not done these things as an insult to the work of those who came before us. Rather, we have worked to strengthen and build on CSHA’s foundation in order to create a path to a viable, sustainable and impactful future in a world that has continued to change at a pace with which we did not keep up, despite all good intentions.
And speaking of keeping up, let me address another truth: Our current fiscal crisis is real.
I cannot recount here for you the many members of the community that I, other board members and our staff have spoken with over the last year, after we were forced to cancel the 2020 conference due to COVID-19 and make unbearable, controversial leadership decisions along the way.
One often-heard grievance was that it seemed impossible that CSHA could be so injured by the cancellation of one event. Truth be told, we weren’t fiscally impacted by the cancellation of just one event. CSHA, as those closest to our finances have frequently said, has operated on tight margins for years.
There are many reasons for this, including increased and sustained competition. But the most detrimental was the realization that CSHA had not increased its member dues or conference registration fees for seven years. No business can continue to serve its clients over that period as costs for delivering services continue to increase, not raise fees for services, and expect to thrive.
And make no mistake, CSHA is a business. Yes, we are at our core a group of professionals striving to improve the lives of our clients and colleagues. But we also are a business whose primary revenue driver is a professional development event that fuels two-thirds of our annual revenue.
Unfortunately, our well-intended desire to serve our colleagues, students and stakeholders by not increasing their dues and fees over those seven years amounted to the compounded loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. So just as we were reimagining the organization based on best practices, and just as we were on the verge of delivering the most robust conference we’ve ever had in terms of attendee experience, service and, yes, revenue generation, COVID cut us off at the knees.
I share this with you not to offend or to offer an excuse, but to merely speak the truth.
Here’s another truth: Humility is not our profession’s strong point. This might be hard for some to hear, but it needs to be said. It’s one of those things that is discussed “behind closed doors,” but never out in the open. Well, as they say, “it’s time to air it out” in order to move forward.
In private, colleagues will say that other allied health professionals are not as important as we are. They are. They will say that those within our profession who don’t hold Ph.D.s or clinical doctorates aren’t as valuable or capable we are. They are. They will say that they are entitled to certain benefits or opportunities because of who they are and/or who they know. They are not. They will say that rules and standards of decorum that apply to others don’t apply to them. They do.
The unfortunate truth is that these delusions of superiority have rightfully earned us the reputation we have in the eyes of many. And one of the ugly extensions of this superiority complex is the degree to which many people have been, or have been made to feel, excluded from our association over the years.
Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” We are an educated and intelligent community. But our often-cited delusion that we are somehow smarter than or superior to others is not only false, but can also be blinding to our need to grow and change.
In October 2018, we assembled a group of 30 community members, consisting of veteran members, those new to leadership in the association, students, nonmembers and consumers, to help CSHA in the gritty self-reflection that was necessary as both a learning experience and a foundation to building a stronger and inclusive future. While exploring the many facets of the organization in candid conversations over two days, it was a group of younger members of the community who described CSHA, using their words, as bland, exclusive, stagnant, not open minded, elitist, prim and proper, unresponsive, ultra-conservative, pumps and pearls, and paralysis by analysis. In a state with 30,000-plus licensed speech-language pathologists and audiologists, it’s no coincidence that only a small fraction of these professionals are CSHA members, despite the good work the association has done and continues to do for the profession.
Again, I say this not to insult or offend, but to offer as a partial testimony to the impact of our alienating those who we need to join, invest in, and to lead the profession and the association.
Since the fall of 2018, strategic efforts have been put into effect to expand the CSHA tent. These changes have inspired and excited some members of our profession but have agitated others. Some colleagues have joined the association because of these changes, while others have let their membership lapse in protest.
Franklin Leonard said, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. (It’s not).” I share this because over the last several months, we have been greeted by some with accusations that the association is trying to ignore or “push out” members. That is neither the intention nor the truth. I also have been told by a veteran member that they believe my appointment as board chair was nothing more than a publicity stunt. That I was just a token for the association. A box that needed to be checked. After all, how else could one possibly explain how someone like me could hold a position that they themself have sought? It is beyond unfortunate that such things can be thought, much less said.
Making the tent bigger, while working to earn the trust of those who have, undeniably, been marginalized, and making room at the table by establishing policies such as term limits and inclusive recruitment, are efforts to be less, not more, exclusive. We know a diverse membership will bring unique opinions and perspectives and aid CSHA in reaching its full potential.
To those who believe we are disrespecting them by expanding the tent, I strongly urge you to take a broader view and reevaluate your stance.
To those who we are trying to welcome into the tent, please know our efforts are genuine.
Here’s the truth: We must continue to grow and foster a culture, within CSHA and our profession, where diversity and inclusion are valued. Only then will we be able to build a stronger, more impactful and sustainable future. It won’t be easy, but I assure you it will be well worth it – and that we will be better because of it.