Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Ashley Austin

FALL 2016

Dr. Ashley Austin, PhD.
Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Human Rights and Social Justice

Dr. Ashley Austin is extremely dedicated to student engagement and student learning. Students consistently provide feedback both formally and informally regarding their positive experiences and great professional growth through her courses. During the 2015-2016 academic she engaged social work students at both the Master’s and Doctoral levels.

She has worked very hard to deliver course material in a way that both motivates and challenges students to exceed their own learning expectations. “I have increasingly recognized that our students often set their expectations far too low, doubt their own abilities, and approach challenges and learning with trepidation and anxiety. As such, I aim to foster a “growth mindset” (Dweck, 2014) among students in order to foster self-efficacy, confidence, and academic and professional success” said Austin.

In the fall of 2015 she became the official faculty advisor to the PRIDE group on campus. As this group had dissipated over the years due to lack of leadership and visibility on campus, Austin worked with student affairs to help students reinstate and build PRIDE’s presence on campus. As LGBTQ students continue to feel marginalized and isolated on college campuses, the presence of supportive and affirmative faculty such as Dr. Austin, is key to LGBTQ student wellbeing and larger level campus climate change.

Dr. Austin shares the view of many scholars devoted to social justice work that research and scholarship can be an important form of advocacy for human rights and resistance to marginalization and oppression. As such, she is firmly committed to a career in which social justice oriented research remains a central activity. Specifically, her research has focused on three primary areas: the experiences and needs of marginalized communities, increasingly focused on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/queer (LGBTQ) communities, developing and implementing affirmative empirically supported models for intervention, and LGBTQ inclusive and affirming social work education.

The past year represented a new focus of professional development that has been both rewarding and challenging for Dr. Austin as she was appointed the SSW’s new Center for Human Rights and Social Justice Director and Distinguished Professor. During her first year in this role, she hosted the Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience Event, as well as Transgender Awareness event featuring a transgender author and college student from Oklahoma. The Center has also worked with local, regional and national community partners (Power U, Dream Defenders, and Critical Resistance) to host the Angela Davis Speaks event focused on addressing and challenging the prison industrial complex and the mass incarceration of marginalized youth and adults of color in the US. Finally, in partnership with professor Zaoui the Center was able to bring a Stand for Hope concert to campus to raise awareness about efforts to end human trafficking. In her role as Center Director, she has grown campus and community collaborations that build on her previous human rights and social justice work associated with the LGBTQ communities. For instance, in response to the 3rd annual Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience event this year Barry University SSW, along with members of our transgender community workgroup, were recognized for our commitment to transgender issues through a formal Proclamation from the Miami-Dade County Office of the Mayor and the Board of County Commissioners. This is an important honor and distinction that brings positive attention to the school, our university, and our shared commitment toward human rights for all individuals.

Dr. Austin also serves the university through her role in hosting and/or supporting a variety of events which demonstrate a commitment on campus to support marginalized and vulnerable populations. For the second year in a row, she took part in the PEACE IN associated with the International Day of Peace that is hosted by Dr. Laura Finley by presenting a workshop aimed at creating safe spaces for transgender students on campus. This workshop was well attended by students. During Trans Awareness month, she delivered a presentation on violence against transgender populations, particularly transwomen of color in the US and the unfair treatment of trans populations by the criminal justice and prison systems to Dr. Finley’s students taking a criminal justice course.

Dr. Austin is a current member of the three leading national social work organizations, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR), and the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE). Particularly relevant is her role as councilor for one of CSWE’s Diversity Councils, the Council on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (CSOGIE). Under its current leadership, this has become a very active council that was responsible for moving forward several critical policy, research, and educational initiatives aimed at creating more inclusive, socially just cultures for social work education and training. Specifically, during her tenure CSOGIE was able to develop and move forward a CSWE policy statement condemning reparative and conversion therapies; while such statements have been issued by many other academic professional organizations nationally and internationally, CSWE had not yet taken a stand on these dangerous and unethical practices. CSOGIE’s advocacy was responsible for mobilizing CSWE to take a stand on this important social justice and human rights initiative. She currently acts as the co-chair of the education subcommittee of CSOGIE.

Barry University’s mission and core commitments are consistent with her personal values, as well as the values and ethics of professional social work. Through all aspects of her word, she has embraced a passion for the pursuit of knowledge and truth and work hard to instill and support this in our students. The courses she has taught emphasize critically examining knowledge, looking for alternate truths and generating new and relevant knowledge. Additionally, engaging in innovative, anti-oppressive scholarship and research advances the knowledge base in a manner that promotes a more humane and just society for everyone. Through her personal and professional quests for truth, she aims to understand and challenge contemporary social issues in a manner that effects positive change. Dr. Austin works tirelessly in conjunction with students, faculty, and community partners to promote social justice and human rights for marginalized groups on and off campus through events, education, and service.