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Nancy Gauvin, New Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement

Nancy Gauvin, new associate dean of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement

Assistant Professor Nancy Gauvin is the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ new associate dean of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement. Gauvin is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and tenure-stream faculty in the school’s Department of Communication Science and Disorders (CSD) who has experience leading Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives throughout her clinical and academic career.

Dean Anthony Delitto states, “Nancy has the expertise to address the challenges we face in recruiting and retaining faculty, staff and students of diverse backgrounds. She also has the academic, clinical and research knowledge to drive change and create actionable plans to foster more equitable and inclusive learning and working environments spanning from the classroom to the lab, in the clinic and our communities.”

Gauvin joined Pitt in 2021 as a member of the initial cohort of scholars from the university’s “Race and Social Determinants of Equity, Health and Well-Being Cluster Hire and Retention Initiative.” The goal of the initiative is to recruit faculty to conduct research, educate students and engage in services designed to reduce racial disparities and to improve measures of equity, health and well-being.

Gauvin was hired to direct the CSD Department's new Communication and Health Equity Outcomes Research Initiative. While also teaching in the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology programs, she has been involved in the development of a systematic research program consistent with her expertise in vocal health and wellness, cleft palate and resonance disorders, and cultural considerations in clinical supervision, research and the scholarship of teaching, learning, and health equity and outcomes.

“I'm very excited about this new position,” expresses Gauvin. “My vision is to create an environment of equity, inclusion and belonging. It's not just about being more diverse but ensuring that our school is as welcoming and supportive of students, faculty and staff as much as possible. I want to focus on how we can continue to improve and grow because everyone should want to improve--to elevate how we teach, how we do research, how we communicate and treat each other.”

Growing up Gauvin

Gauvin, the daughter of first-generation immigrants, grew up in New York City. “Queens was a very diverse community. My neighbors were from all over the place—Haiti, Jamaica and Barbados. My neighbors were Jewish, Italian and Guyanese. I had a great childhood. It was just beautiful, like a cornucopia of culture,” she explains.

Gauvin grew up bilingual as her parents were born in Haiti. Since her mother was one of nine children, she had a lot of family members that she conversed with mostly in French until the age of five. When she first entered kindergarten, she was placed in a remedial English class. Gauvin says, “My mother asked why they put me in this class, and I said I didn’t know. I just assumed it was like home, so I spoke French when I started school!” She remembers assuming everyone was like her. “You think everyone is bilingual, because that's your experience when you’re little.”

Language was very important to Gauvin from a young age. As part of a Haitian and Cuban family, social interactions were integral to relationships. When several of her close family members became physically unable to communicate, she was deeply impacted. Her once vivacious grandmother was diagnosed with emphysema. Gauvin remembers her grandma becoming easily winded, needing supplemental oxygen and eventually not being able to talk. Her uncle suffered a massive stroke when she was in high school. “He was this beautiful person. He was a singer and an ophthalmologist. He had all these talents, and then he had a massive stroke and had no voice. That changed his life completely.” It wasn’t until she attended college that she would discover the field of communication science and disorders, but these traumatic experiences would remain with her throughout life.

Nancy Gauvin’s High School Portrait

Nancy Gauvin’s high school portrait

As a teenager, the feeling of belonging that Gauvin felt in her Queens neighborhood slowly dissipated as she ventured outside of her close-knit community. She describes one of her first encounters with racism, “When I went to high school in a predominantly white area, I remember it was the first time I was called a racial slur. I was walking to school and I thought, ‘What is going on?’” She said it was “weird” and remembers telling herself, “You're not just Nancy. You're a black girl.” Gauvin then started noticing other differences. She recalls “how my mother was spoken to when we would go the bank because she had an accent. They would talk to her like she was an idiot. This was disheartening because my mother was brilliant. She spoke three languages!”

These experiences influenced Gauvin’s professional path. “They shaped my career and my research,” she explains. Her academic and clinical experiences would also form her future. “In grad school, I had entered speech-language pathology—a field that’s 92% white and mostly female and does not represent the populations we serve. I decided to focus on cultural diversity for my dissertation.”

Forging a Future Academician, Clinician and Scientist

Gauvin earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Central Florida and her Master of Science in speech-language pathology from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, before moving to the U.K. for two years. In London, she led a team of school therapists and simultaneously completed a clinical fellowship. “It was a wonderful international experience working with different cultures and people from all over the world,” she reminisces.

Nancy Gauvin In Trafalgar Square in London

Nancy Gauvin In Trafalgar Square in London

Gauvin soon moved back to the U.S. to take care of her sick father. Upon her return, she joined the faculty at Nova Southeastern University and worked at the Joe DiMaggio Pediatric Hospital in Hollywood, FL. “They needed a speech language-pathologist on the craniofacial anomalies team. I had no experience with cleft care at the time, so I learned on the job. I just really enjoyed working with children with facial differences.” During that time, she earned her Doctor of Education in organizational leadership and speech-language pathology.

Granted a Henderson Post-Doctoral Fellow in 2016, Gauvin became faculty at the University of Vermont in Burlington. While she describes her department and colleagues as being wonderful, she explains enduring some of the most “horrendous” teaching experiences when she first arrived. Students made offensive comments towards her. She received poor teaching evaluations from this same cohort and was even threatened by one of her students. “I started doubting myself a lot because I didn't know why they were treating me this way,” she says. “I was thinking I'm in a progressive state, people are supposed to be very open. Why is this happening?” Gauvin then requested several peer evaluations in the span of one year and she noted that all of them were extremely positive, and a direct contradiction to what her student evaluations stated. The dean and chair of the CSD Department intervened and discussed the observed implicit bias that the students were exhibiting towards Gauvin. Under her recommendation, all future CSD students participated in implicit bias training during orientation.

While simultaneously experiencing her own hardship, Gauvin says, “I was looking at the needs of the community, and we had a large transgender community at the time and there were no resources for that population regarding voice therapy.” Gauvin quickly got to work and sought training from Dr. Jack Pickering, a leading advocate and scientist of gender affirming voice modification located in nearby Albany, NY. Using this experience, she created a gender affirming voice program at the university’s Eleanor M. Luse Center.

Nancy Gauvin and her son in Burlington, VT

Nancy Gauvin and her son in Burlington, VT

Once Gauvin started the program, she coordinated student experiences working with the transgender community. There wasn’t much diversity in Vermont, so she knew the students would benefit from this opportunity. “The local community partners were in need of useful therapy resources.” Gauvin received push back from some of her students who did not agree with working with this population. “I had to let the students know that when you work with patients you can’t just pick and choose who you want to work with.” She explained, “You don’t have to go home with your clients. You don’t even have to be best friends with them, but you will need to work respectfully with everyone.” Gauvin would later be lauded for her initiative. “The program is still going strong, which is great. I feel I have built something that’s successful and thriving.”

In Vermont, Gauvin also served as lead SLP on the University of Vermont Cleft and Craniofacial Program for the state and northern New York and regularly engaged in programming to recruit underrepresented students into the health science professions. After four years in Vermont, Gauvin briefly served as an assistant professor at Molloy University in Rockville Centre, NY, before being recruited to Pitt.

Driven to Serve

Throughout her career, Gauvin has been self-motivated and driven, working tirelessly through adversity to serve her profession, her patients and marginalized communities. At the University of Vermont, she received the UVM Women & Gender Equity Center Outstanding Faculty Award. Most recently, she was named one of three chief editors for a new undergraduate research publication called The Intersection of Linguistics, Language and Culture Journal (ILLC).

Currently, she is organizing the first intercollegiate affiliate chapter of the National Black Association of Speech-Language and Hearing (with representation from Pitt, Carlow, Duquesne and PennWest Universities). “Now these students will have a gateway to talk to each other and work together,” says Gauvin. “Underrepresented students feel very isolated. This is what's driven me into this new role. Our health professions need to be more diverse and inclusive.”

Gauvin explains that we need to do more than recruit faculty, staff and students of diversity. “The answer is not just hiring highly qualified people from diverse backgrounds. It's how we mentor, support and ensure everyone’s success.”

Gauvin, who began her appointment on April 1, is already implementing her initiatives called “Plan, Do, Study and Elevate” to create a community of belonging. “People, wherever they are, should be comfortable in who they are. I have so many plans and I hope the ideas will be well accepted. I'm not coming in to dismantle what is working successfully, because that's not my approach at all. It's about enhancing, growing and seeing things from a different lens to elevate the experiences and opportunities in SHRS for everyone.”


Published April 3, 2023

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