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UC Allied Health student aims to leave a legacy through language

Passion for African American English results in leadership positions

It was her mom who first encouraged Lauren Prather to explore a career in speech pathology. The doctoral student in Communication Sciences and Disorders in the University of Cincinnati College of Allied Health Sciences (CAHS) says when she was in high school in her hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee, her mom gave her a pamphlet on audiology.

“She told me I should consider audiology based on the trend of parents blasting loud music in their cars and with their kids in the car,” says Prather. “Being a teenager, I brushed her off and said, ‘No, I am going to be a doctor who works with athletes.’”

While attending the University of Memphis, Prather majored in biology and pre-med, but she says when she started studying physics, she and that subject “did not get along,” as she puts it. She decided to leave the area of biology and go into communications, but she didn’t want to be on television or radio, preferring something related to health in communications.

“When I did my research on the internet on careers on the health side of communications, that audiology pamphlet my mother showed me popped up,” Prather says. “My parents supported my change of major and even encouraged me. My dad said it would be a natural field of study for me.”

From Tennessee to UC

Prather’s study path to UC went from Memphis to Nashville, where she got her master’s in communication sciences and disorders at Tennessee State University. It was while studying there that she was introduced to the National Black Association of Speech-Language and Hearing (NBASLH), where she sits on the board of directors as the student representative. The NBASLH is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the sharing of information about communication impairments and differences among black people; the professional development of speech-language pathologists, audiologists and students; and the advocacy of quality service delivery to the black community.

Prather is also the president of the UC Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, a group she joined in 2017. She loves the initiatives, mission and purpose of the organization, which strives to nurture and support black graduate and professional students through learning and personal development experiences, exploring career and networking opportunities, building a strong social and professional network and serving the community at large.

In her leadership role with the NBASLH, she was attending the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's national convention in Los Angeles in 2017 where she saw the documentary film, “Talking Black in America.” She says she was so inspired after seeing the film she was determined to bring it to UC.

“African American English is my research interest and the documentary aligned so much that I wanted to make sure I shared it with the people around me, especially in my field,” Prather says. “So ultimately, the desire to put on this event was wanting to bring awareness and share knowledge.”

Lauren Prather and Walt Wolfram stand in front of a screen that reads "Talking Black in America"

Lauren Prather and Walt Wolfram at the UC screening of "Talking Black in America" at Kresge Auditorium. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative + Brand

Prather organized an event at UC to show the film and have a discussion panel afterwards, featuring the film’s producer, Walt Wolfram. Wolfram is the founder of the Language and Life Project at North Carolina State University, which is a nonprofit outreach education endeavor to document and celebrate dialects, languages and cultures of the United States.

The movie is the first documentary feature ever on African American language varieties and the powerful role of language in African American culture. It was shown at UC in February as part of UC’s observance of Black History Month.

“African American English, as the Language and Life Project has said, is the most controversial and misunderstood variety of speech in America,” Prather told the audience prior to the film being shown. “It comes off as improper to some, slang to others or just bad English. However, when we stigmatize and categorize African American English from a deficit perspective or bias, we miss out on its true significance and the essential cultural information that it carries when it is used. African American English holds so much power because it impacts everything in the black community and in our community as a whole.”

Inclusive excellence

The event and discussion around the film is emblematic of the university’s commitment to inclusive excellence, part of the innovation agenda as part of UC’s strategic direction, Next Lives Here.

Monica Wilkins, director of diversity initiatives and recruitment at CAHS, says Prather has impressed her with her involvement in the college as well as being someone who has a mission and is goal-oriented.

“Lauren has a strong passion and vision for not only her personal and professional interests but also demonstrates these qualities in her leadership style in general,” says Wilkins. “She and I actually talked about bringing the ‘Talking Black in America’ event here to UC several years ago and even though the time wasn’t right then, Lauren never gave up on the goal of hosting this event. Persistence paid off. She definitely has the ‘right stuff,’ and I see her as a young woman destined for a great future.”

When it comes to her future, Prather says she isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do once her studies at UC are done. It’s something she says she’s still trying to figure out.

“I am a clinician at heart and I really love pouring into students and advocating for the black community,” says Prather. “Educating, bringing awareness and making space for the next generation is where I see myself going. I believe one day I will be a professor teaching, being a clinical supervisor and working in the community. I am just trusting God's purpose and plan for me. Shoot, I may be working with Dr. Wolfram one day!”

Featured image at top Lauren Prather. Photo credit/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative + Brand. 

Next Lives Here, the University of Cincinnati’s strategic direction, defines our moment and our momentum. More nimble and more robust than a plan, Next Lives Here announces our vision to the world—to lead urban public universities into a new era of innovation, impact, and inclusion.