An MLK Scholar Returns as an Assistant Professor: An Interview with Keisha Lindsay (BS ’04)

Keisha T. Lindsay (BS ’04) is an assistant professor and a Provost’s Faculty Fellow in Steinhardt’s Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders.  She has worked as a practicing speech-language pathologist in the United States and in the English-speaking Caribbean region, and researches language development in children from the English-speaking Caribbean region who are raised in multilingual households.  During her doctoral training at Howard University, Keisha was the recipient of departmental and school-wide grants.  At NYU, she was a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar during her undergraduate years and was named a 2017-2018 Faculty First Look Scholar.  Keisha is a co-founder and Founding Board Member of the Caribbean Speech-Language-Hearing Association (CaribSHA).  In addition, she has served as the chairperson of the Occupational Therapy and Speech-Language Therapy Board of Trinidad and Tobago.

We interviewed Keisha, who will be attending the MLK Scholars Reunion on Alumni Weekend, October 27th.

Keisha Lindsay

As an undergraduate, you were an NYU Steinhardt MLK Scholar.  Did that award shape your  career trajectory?

In my senior year of high school, my college counselor at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York, suggested that I apply to NYU and the MLK, Jr. Scholars program.  At that time, I was surprised to get any scholarship!  That was not because of a lack of academic success — I absolutely succeeded in high school — but it was because I was a recently-arrived immigrant who was living in New York City for only four years before enrolling at NYU. Scholarships and programs, such as the MLK, Jr. Scholars program, were new to my vocabulary and to my experience.

In regard to my trajectory, the scholars program did not heavily influence the decision about my major (Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology), leading to my career as a speech-language pathologist.  However, it has HEAVILY influenced the way in which I look at issues surrounding diversity and equity within the field that I work in.  My experience as an MLK, Jr. Scholar influences the research questions that I explore as an emerging scholar.

How do Dr. King’s ideals shape your work?

Where do I begin?!  So many of Dr. King’s ideals have influenced the way in which I live my personal and professional lives.  If I had to choose the one that has weaved its way into all aspects of my life, it would be service.  Whether as a clinician or researcher, I see the work that I do as service to individuals and communities.  I have also benefitted from the service of others through their openness to mentor me at every stage of my personal and professional journey.

Keisha Lindsay with Associate Dean Patricia Carey, who created NYU’s MLK Scholars Program.

You worked as a speech-language therapist in Trinidad after your graduation.  Can you talk a little about that experience?

Working in Trinidad on a limited basis in 2009 and on a full-time basis beginning in 2010 was a “homecoming” of sorts for me.  I came to the United States at the age of 13, and while New York City became my home, I have always felt a deep connection to the land of my birth.  When I arrived in Trinidad in 2010, I was the 7thspeech-language pathologist on the island.  I enjoyed learning from those who were there before and adding ideas about interdisciplinary practice to my knowledge bank. I also got involved in the regulation of the profession.  That work forced me to dig deep to remember the ideals of excellence and ethical behavior that were engrained me in through my family and the MLK Scholars, Jr. program.  Overall, the experience was one of growth and transformed the way in which I practiced as a clinician.  The experience also offered me the questions that I seek to answer in my career as a researcher.

What made you decide to return to the world of higher education for an advanced degree? 

Simply put: I had some questions to answer.  The more complicated version of that answer is that I have always wanted to contribute knowledge to the field of speech-language pathology.  It turned out that the best way for me to do that was to investigate some questions that I had (and still have) about a culturally and linguistically diverse population that has been understudied within my field.

Keisha Lindsay at NYU’s All University Commencement (2004) where she gave the undergraduate address in Washington Square Park.

Who were some important mentors at NYU?

Dean Patricia Carey, Erich Dietrich, Mike Funk, Kesia Constantine, Beryl Bowden, Jeanne Bannon, and Claudette Carter.  In different ways, each individual in this group modeled a kind of humble, servant leadership that I have always thought about and have hoped to emulate.

In returning to NYU, I have found new mentors – Shondel Nero, Christina Reuterskiöld, Charlton Mcllwain – but the members of the first group (who are all still here!) were my initial leadership models.

What advice do you have for our alumni who are out just starting out in jobs that so important to people, but might be under valued in our society?

If we seek to define ourselves by external factors, we will never measure up.  That has been my mantra and has become a way of defining myself.  When I glance retrospectively at my career journey, I have asked myself “who am I accountable to?” at different stages. While the answers have varied, the very question has reminded me that, regardless of what value society places on my work, I am accountable to and providing assistance to someone – and that’s enough!  So my advice is: own your work, know you are who you are accountable to and just be your excellent self.

When you were an undergrad at NYU, did you ever imagine you’d be teaching here one day?  

Absolutely not!  But what a pleasure it has been to return to the university as an emerging scholar in the very department that introduced me to this field.  So much has changed at NYU – like these campuses in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi, as well as the emergence of online programs.  Yet, many things have remained the same.  Many years after graduating, I appreciate the global, yet local vibe, that I still feel while enjoying my lunch in Washington Square Park.