Our JEDI History
Our department has a long-standing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
1998-2002: NIH Working Group on African American English
In 1998, Dr. Harry Seymour, Chair of the Department of Communication Disorders (now called the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences), was awarded a NIH grant to study African American English. His work with Co-Investigators Jill DeVilliers, Smith College Department of Psychology and Philosophy and Tom Roeper, UMass Amherst Department of Linguistics contributed to the field of study of African American English and to the creation of the Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation (DELV, 2003, 2005, 2018), now published by Ventris Learning. Learn More about the Working Group from this video narrated by Dr. Harry Seymour and from the Working Group's archived webpages:
- Scholarworks page with links to publications and presentations
- Archived homepage of the Working Group on AAE
- 1999 Position Statement on African American English
- 2001 Newsletter from the Working Group in AAE
- Group Pictures, 1998-2003
1999-2000: Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom Fellowship
In 1999-2000, our department had a Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom Fellowship, which involved some departmental activities including bringing in Beverly Tatum, author of Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and Other Stories? for a workshop.
2004: Establishment of the Harry and Charlena Seymour Scholarship for Diversity
In 2004, Drs. Charlena and Harry N. Seymour established the Harry and Charlena Seymour Scholarship for Diversity to increase and enhance the diversity of the student body of the Communication Disorders Department at UMass Amherst. “This scholarship provides financial support to those students who have been historically underrepresented due to race, ethnicity, gender, and economic reasons in higher education and to foster greater awareness and understanding of multicultural issues in communication disorders by the infusion of information about linguistic/cultural diversity in the curriculum of the Department of Communication Disorders.”
This scholarship achieved maturity in 2020 and so far this scholarship has been awarded to 4 students in our department.
Contributions to the Harry and Charlena Seymour Scholarship for Diversity can be made here.
Dr. Charlena Seymour, Professor Emerita
Dr. Charlena Seymour’s academic career spans more than 40 years, including a substantial tenure at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she held positions such as Professor, and administrative leadership positions as Director of the Communications Disorders Clinic (1974), graduate program director (1983-1984), Chair of the Department of Communications Disorders (1985), Dean of the Graduate School (1994), Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic affairs (2001-2004), and Provost (2004-2009).
A Fellow of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), Dr. Seymour served as the vice president for quality of service of ASHA from 1990 to 1992 and as president of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association in 1996-1998. She received the organization's highest award, the Honors award, in 2007 for a distinguished career. She and her husband, Harry Seymour Ph.D., each received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Department of Speech and Hearing Science, at The Ohio State University, in 2011.
In her own words: Watch a video of Dr. Charlena Seymour talking about her career at UMass.
Dr. Harry Seymour, Professor Emeritus
Dr. Harry N. Seymour was the lead author of the Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation (DELV), and was the principal investigator on the $2,700,000 National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders grant to develop the DELV, the only test in speech and language designed and standardized specifically to reduce linguistic and cultural bias in testing African American children who speak non mainstream American English: https://www.ventrislearning.com/delv/. During his tenure at UMass, Dr. Harry Seymour collaborated with an interdisciplinary team of faculty researchers that includes Thomas Roeper, Department of Linguistics at UMass Amherst, and Jill de Villiers, Department of Psychology and Philosophy at Smith College, among other colleagues.
In his own words:
"After earning PhDs from The Ohio State University, Dr. Harry N. Seymour, along with his wife Dr. Charlena M. Seymour joined UMass Amherst as assistant professors of communication disorders in 1971. In addition to fulfilling his academic and administrative responsibilities as faculty and Chair of the department, Dr. Harry Seymour embarked on an ambitious pursuit of integrating diversity into much of his professional life. As an African American (AA), he felt he had a “calling” beyond the traditional academician, given the on-going educational disparity between Blacks and Whites in America. Hence, he pursued two particular goals pertaining to diversity: 1) address the under-representation of African American students in the M.A. and PhD programs, and 2) address the over-representation of African American children in special education.
Dr. Seymour’s efforts in increasing the numbers of the AA students within the department at both the MA and PhD levels were significant. His success was due in no small part to his ability to generate stipends from the federal Department of Education for all the AA matriculating students, spanning over 30 years. As a result, the Department of Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst was recognized nationally as a model for other departments attempting to diversify their student body. At one point, the UMass department had more AA PhD students than any in the country, and I suspect none has matched it since.
Not unrelated to Dr. Seymour’s success in assuring an AA presence in the department was his research focus on African American English, and its implications for creating a diagnostic protocol for non-biased speech and language treatment. Indeed, many students, both Black and White, participated in, and were financially supported by Dr. Seymour’s research endeavors. His research activities were in fact a magnet for students who wanted to participate in the challenges of creating culturally and linguistically fair assessment tools for AA children.
The major outcome, and perhaps the culmination of Dr. Seymour’s research career, was the Diagnostic Evaluations of Language Variation (DELV), whose sole purpose was the valid and unbiased assessment of speech and language disorders among African American children whose primary dialect was not standard American English. No other standardized test in special education addressed this issue. In creating the DELV, supported by 2.7 million from NIH, and another 3.0 million from Psych Corp (Harcourt publishing), a very unique research milieu emerged from a collaboration among communication disorders researchers, linguists and child psychologists (both students and faculty). Few if any departments of communication disorders could boast such a collaboration. As such, the DELV’s unique quality and validity owes to this cross fertilization of ideas from various disciplines. The DELV has proven to be an effective non-biased instrument for all English-speaking children regardless of dialect. “Hence, DELV is as valid for a White child of Amherst, MA, as it is for a Black child of inner city Chicago, a fact of which I’m particularly proud. In addition, I’m proud of my communication disorders colleagues for their complicity in my efforts. No one can do it alone.”
Departmental scholarship and collaborations on African American English
Dr. Shelley Velleman
Dr. Shelley Velleman, Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Vermont, is a former alumnus (‘85) and faculty member in the Department of Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst. During her tenure at UMass Amherst, she was affiliated with Dr. Seymour’s research and the phonology subcommittee working on the DELV test. In collaboration with Dr. Barbara Pearson and graduate students, two research studies (Pearson et al., 2009; Velleman & Pearson, 2010) were published that showed child speakers of the African American English (AAE) dialect who were exposed to one or more dialects exhibited different phonological developmental profiles depending on certain characteristics of each dialect. This research was presented at the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), National Black Association of Speech, Language & Hearing (NBASLH), and the International Child Phonology Conferences. She funded and mentored numerous undergraduate and graduate students (including Caroline Jones and Jacklyn High) on a grant she received from the National Science Foundation (NSF) related to the study of AAE at UMass Amherst.
Dr. Harry Seymour’s Doctoral Students
In addition, Dr. Harry Seymour mentored and supported a number of doctoral students, including Linda Bland, Tempii Champion, Toya Wyatt, D’Jaris Coles-White, Janice Jackson, Valerie Johnson, Eliane Ramos, Debra Garret, Cynthia Paulk, Lamya Abdul-Karim and Frances Burns.
Dr. Lisa Green, Distinguished Professor of Linguistics and Adjunct Faculty, Department of Communication Disorders
Dr. Lisa Green, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Linguistics and adjunct faculty in the Department of Communication, is the director of the Center for the Study of African American Language at UMass Amherst. The goal of the Center is to foster and integrate research on language in the African American community and applications of that research in educational, social, and cultural realms. She also sponsors and hosts the Summer Dialect Research Project for the study of African American English at UMass Amherst. Dr. Green is leading the Pipelines to Pathways initiative in collaboration with Dr. Brandi Newkirk-Turner, Department of Communication Disorders at Jackson State University in Mississippi, and Dr. Mary Andrianopoulos, Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst, to develop a post-baccalaureate program in Linguistics and Communication Disorders. The Pipelines to Pathways initiative will recruit graduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to spend a gap year at UMass Amherst prior to applying to graduate programs in Speech Language Pathology and/or Linguistics.
Dr. Nathaniel Whitmal, SPHHS Director of Diversity Advancement (2018-2021)
Dr. Nathaniel Whitmal is one of the founding members of the ad hoc Diversity Committee of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS) in 2012. In 2014, the committee officially added to SPHHS bylaws, and in 2014, Dr. Whitmal became chair of this committee. In March 2015 the first SPHHS climate survey was issued and results (issued 6/8/2015) indicated a need for school-level faculty mentoring programs.
In the fall of 2015, the first of three SPHHS diversity orientations for incoming graduate students took place, and Dean Aelion asked the committee to review the Diversity Strategic Plan and recommend long-term strategies for the Committee. In 2016 the committee endorsed a memo calling for a half-time faculty Diversity Director and full-time staff person.
2016 committee reports findings of a second climate survey (adapted from CNS survey of Prof. Nilanjana Desgupta) indicated that underrepresented minority faculty are less satisfied with the work environment than white faculty, and reiterated the need for both department / disciplinary mentoring and extra-departmental peer mentoring
As a result, in March 2018, Dr. Whitmal was appointed as SPHHS climate advisor and charged with interpreting UMass climate survey findings for SPHHS and assembling focus groups.
A SPHHS climate report was issued in the fall of 2018, and in 2019, Dr. Whitmal was appointed as first SPHHS Director of Diversity Advancement by Dean Nancy Cohen, reappointed in 2020 by Dean Anna Maria Siega-Riz, in which capacity served through 2021.