On Becoming a More Diverse ASHA

On Becoming a More Diverse ASHA

Ty Oehrtman, ASHA President

Perhaps at no other time in our history have we been more focused on recognizing and appreciating the value of diversity. ASHA is no exception. At our core is a belief that the involvement of individuals with diverse perspectives, lived experiences, and professional lenses creates a stronger, healthier school community. As such, ASHA is taking the time to look within and examine itself. Through that examination, and from the feedback we have heard from you, our members, we recognize that although we aim to be diverse and inclusive, we have yet to achieve that goal.

In order to realize our mission of transforming all schools into places where every student learns and thrives it is critical that we build a strong network of professionals that accurately reflects the makeup of all the schools and communities across the country. This means that the membership of ASHA, our leadership, volunteers, staff, contractors, as well as scholarship and award recipients must be at the very least proportionally representative of the many races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, and other characteristics of the students we serve. In being true to the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model, we must also ensure that we represent the many and varied professional disciplines that are necessary to help build a nationwide infrastructure where every child can be healthy, safe, supported, challenged, and engaged. ASHA aspires to lead, educate, and activate diverse school health champions, but where do we begin?

Recently, the ASHA Board of Directors engaged in a strategic and thoughtful discussion where we sought to plan the deliberate steps we will take to become the inclusive organization we profess to be. Here our some of our immediate actions:

  • Earlier this year the Board of Directors unanimously adopted updates to our Core Beliefs in Action in which we reaffirmed our belief in and commitment to eliminating health disparities, and closing the achievement gap. We clearly understand that diversity and inclusiveness are crucial elements that cannot be ignored.
  • Our 93rd Annual School Health Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio (October 2-4) will feature a keynote presentation, networking opportunities, and other discussions focused on ways in which we can become more diverse and celebrate the role that diversity plays in helping to establish healthy school communities. The Professional Development Committee is also planning additional webinars, and continuing education opportunities that will occur throughout the year on this important topic. These opportunities are being planned now, watch for further announcements about this in the coming weeks.
  • As president, I have challenged the Leadership & Recognition Committee with pursuing extraordinary efforts to ensure that our 2019 scholarship and award recipients represent many different backgrounds and perspectives. My hope for this year is to publicly celebrate diverse representatives of the school health professional community that do great work to eliminate inequities in health and education.
  • Later this year, ASHA’s membership will have the opportunity to elect five new leaders to serve on the 2020 Board of Directors. The nominating committee to select candidates for service began meeting this month. That committee is seeking to put forth the most diverse slate of candidates in ASHA’s history. I encourage each person reading this post to contemplate and put forth nominations of individuals that can help us achieve this lofty goal.

I believe these actions are a great start, but they are not enough. To continue building on this foundation, I invite each ASHA member to share their thoughts and ideas about becoming a more inclusive professional community. To that end, me and ASHA’s Vice President, Kayce Solari Williams, will host a virtual town hall discussion on becoming a more diverse organization on Wednesday, April 3 at 3pm Eastern Standard Time. I invite and encourage every ASHA member to join us for this important discussion to share your thoughts and ideas. For those who may be unable to join us live, we will post a recording of that conversation. I also invite you to add your thoughts in the discussion box below or send your input on this topic to info@ashaweb.org.

By taking a hard look at ourselves, ASHA can ensure that we are respectful and responsive to our members and those that our members serve. Please join me in using your voice to make ASHA the best it can be.