The legacy and impact of Dr. Halcyon Lawrence
Remembering Lawrence’s influence, advocacy
By CASEY BORDICK '18 '24 on February 5, 2024
Halcyon Lawrence, Ph.D., a trailblazing researcher and advocate for underrepresented populations in scientific and technical communications, died on October 29, 2023. The sudden loss was felt throughout Towson University’s community and the technical communication field.
Lawrence’s research on artificial intelligence (AI) speech recognition and accent bias is regarded as at the forefront of linguistic justice and opens numerous possibilities for future research in the field.
Starting at TU in 2018 as an associate professor for undergraduate and graduate studies in technical communication and user design, Lawrence is known for the care and attention she provided to her students and peers. Emily Chavez-Robalino '23 says, “She ensured that everyone’s presence was acknowledged in the room, and she wanted to get to know everyone... I aspire to imitate her warmth, fearlessness and thoughtfulness.”
Even through her research, Lawrence never lost sight of her students. Sarah Gunning, Ph.D., associate professor at TU and Lawrence’s research collaborator says, “Towson was special to Halcyon because of the student relationships. It was her main priority, and she never let her research get in the way of that.” There was a connection Lawrence felt from the TU community that she could not find anywhere else. Gunning says, “Dr. Lawrence believed that our students bring so much knowledge to the table because of their diverse backgrounds.”
After immigrating from Trinidad, Lawrence never shied away from talking about her family and roots. She quickly connected with Gail Gibbs, a fellow Trinidadian and TU’s director of the International Student and Scholar Office. Gibbs recalls, “She visited me with all the grace, panache and ‘Trini love’ I expected, and an instant camaraderie was born!” She says, “We shared so many ‘island’ stories. I felt I was reminiscing with an old friend…That was just Halcyon’s way.”
In 2022, Lawrence was awarded a research grant to promote anti-racist programs and pedagogies from the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication (CPTSC). Lawrence’s work was bolstered by many professionals within the technological communication community, including Laura Gonzales, Ph.D., who became the TU professor’s research partner.
Their collaboration on speech technologies and accent bias was personal for Lawrence and Gonzales. Gonzales says, “Halcyon showed me that there is a space in technical communication for multilingual immigrant women. We connected because we were both immigrant researchers and our interests in technical communication and translation.”
Lawrence was instrumental in providing a new lens for future researchers to view voice technology as technical communication and in advocating for underrepresented users. Gonzales states, “Her research on speech technology is so impactful, and we will continue investing in linguistic justice within speech technologies because of Dr. Lawrence.”
Gonzales is continuing Lawrence’s research by working with Lawrence’s grant-funded group to publish a statement about linguistic justice in technical communication.
Lawrence’s journal article, Technical and Professional Communicators as Advocates of Linguistic Justice in the Design of Speech Technologies, was published after her passing. The publication comes with a tribute to Lawrence written by Gonzales and Suban Nur Cooley, assistant professor at Michigan State University.
“The Towson University community will continue to emanate Dr. Lawrence’s legacy in our work and research,” says Melanie Perreault, provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs at TU. “Her brilliance and generosity as a scholar, teacher and colleague will never be forgotten. She is deeply missed.”
Lawrence provided an example for future researchers, professors and students to advocate for social justice and understand the importance of fighting linguistic inequities. Even though Gonzales and her colleagues will continue what Lawrence began, Gonzales believes “Dr. Lawrence did, and will always, lead the field for advocacy in technical communication.”
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