Dr. D'Jaris Coles-White awarded Presidential Innovation Professorship

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Dr. D'Jaris Coles-White, an innovative speech-language pathology researcher and practitioner, joins the Western Michigan University community as a Presidential Innovation Professor. A new hire in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, her research focuses on multicultural issues in speech disorders and development of social language skills in children with autism spectrum disorders.

A portrait of D'Jaris Coles-White.

Dr. D'Jaris Coles-White

“Dr. Coles-White is a groundbreaking leader in the field of speech-language pathology, a respected scholar and a dedicated instructor. She has demonstrated an ability to build strong relationships with her students through a teaching style that promotes respect and understanding for everyone in the classroom," says WMU President Edward Montgomery. "I’m pleased that Western is providing her with the Presidential Innovation Professorship as a platform to advance her work and advance our knowledge of how to better identify and treat childhood language disorders."

Coles-White was involved in the development of the Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation (DELV), a tool designed to differentiate language difference from disorder in children who speak nonmainstream dialects, such as African American English. She was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to serve on the Michigan Board of Speech-Language Pathology, Bureau of Professional Licensing and is currently president-elect for the Michigan Speech Language Hearing Association.

"We are confident that Dr. Coles-White's instructional innovation—characterized by open communication, clinical application and awareness of cultural-linguistic diversity—paired with her lived experience as a Black scholar will help advance our department, college and campus community in regard to culturally responsive practices at large and anti-racism in particular," Dr. Ron Cisler, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Laura DeThorne, chair of the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, wrote in their nomination letter.

The professorship acknowledges Coles-White's experience has great potential to advance teaching, creative scholarship and research at Western and beyond.

"She is known for her strong relationships with students and her flexible pedagogical approach, which is built upon an open acknowledgment of personal identities and systemic barriers," wrote Cisler and DeThorne.

Coles-White says her teaching philosophy is rooted in her identity and experiences.

"Everyone in a classroom needs to be comfortable, valued, respected, authentic and good listeners," she says. "Creating that kind of culture in the classroom breaks down some of the ‘hidden barriers’ that exist in a classroom environment that can be toxic and perpetuate institutional notions about higher education but also foster cultural humility and provide a classroom environment that is culturally responsive."

Montgomery announced the Presidential Innovation Professorships initiative in January 2020 to spark innovation in teaching and research. Recipients are awarded three years of funding to serve as role models of excellence in their area of expertise and to continue the activities for which they are recognized. Other faculty in the 2021 cohort, announced in April, include Dr. Massood Atashbar, Dr. Wendy Beane and Sue Ellen Christian.

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