Frankie Augustin Self Image
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Augustin Named Dean’s Fellow for Racial Equity for HHD

Read More: HHD Insights: Augustin’s Path to Becoming HHD Dean’s Fellow for Racial Equity

Frankie Augustin Self Image

What does it take to be a power for good in society? At CSUN, we believe education is critical to this ability, and in the College of Health and Human Development, we are expressly focused on finding ways to enhance, enrich, and empower the human experience. But how do we know the quality of the human experience? While casual observation can open conversations about it, the best way to find out what is actually happening to people is to ask them. And to make improvements, we need to know where we stand, so we gather data.

Historically, as we know, the way to success for some has been reliant on gain at the expense of others, and racial inequity has been central to the function of this dynamic. At CSUN, we strive to be a place where all can succeed.  So how are we doing?

Mechelle Best, Dean of the College of Health and Human Development, wants to get a better understanding of the state of racial equity in the College, and so this fall, she named Health Administration Professor Frankline “Frankie” Augustin to serve as the Dean’s Fellow for Racial Equity in the College.

“I will be doing a social climate study for the College,” Augustin said. “There is a climate study in progress as part of the University-wide Black Student Success Initiative, and Dean Best’s focus is to see our own details at the College level. This study will first focus on Black and African American students, and down the line, we will get data on the Asian diaspora, the Latinx diaspora, Indigenous students, Armenian students, Caucasian students… all students, to understand their relationships to equity as well. What makes this study unique is that Dean Best wants to learn from HHD students at all levels, including students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees. On top of that, we will be expanding this study to all CHHD staff and faculty.”

Asked about the nature of the fellowship, Dean Best said, “My vision for CHHD, first and foremost is that every student, faculty, and staff who walk through our doors, have the opportunity to thrive. That said, we know that there are systemic issues that over the years have made it more difficult for some in our minoritized community to be successful. What we don’t know are the specifics pertaining to CHHD and it is imperative that we do. I decided to begin with our Black/African American students because data show us that over the years a concerning number of these students at CSUN have not performed well. Consequently, they have either not graduated or took much longer than average to graduate. These concerns are compounded by an alarming, yet unsurprising, decline in Black/African American student enrollment. These factors provide the impetus for appointing Dr. Augustin as the Fellow for Racial Equity this semester.”

While some might take issue with singling out groups, Augustin said that for a study such as this, such identification is part of the process. “We want to know, in this study, what is the Black student experience in the College. An immediate benefit is that when you address issues within a group that is marginalized, all groups gain because strategies for creating equity anywhere teach people to think open-mindedly to practice equity everywhere. Listening to the authentic voice is key to the discovery process.”

“In addition to gathering hard data, we will be asking students to share their perspectives on their experiences in the College,” Augustin said. “In doing so we can meet people where they are and find out what they know, so we can begin to establish equity, rather than dictate our own assumptions about what we (the College) believe they need to be successful.”

While not directly referencing curriculum and what it takes to become, for example, a qualified Health Administrator or an Audiologist, there are ways to communicate information without setting students up to feel like they are being compared to others. “A traditional academic model has been to inform students about what they need to know, and what they need to get there,” Augustin said. “In this model, the educational institution sets up an imposed standard and strives to bring all students to the same standard by using a singular practice – many times it’s a practice that worked personally for the educator. While truth and fact are immutable, vantage points vary person by person. A lack of understanding of this, simply put, is inequity.”

Best added, “At CSUN we boast about a diverse student population. We are nationally recognized for our diversity. Yet broadly speaking, we have not kept pace in aligning our pedagogies to be culturally contextualized and nuanced. We cannot rely on assumptions, nor should we overly generalize if we want to make CHHD 2.0 or 3.0 a reality. This is why the Dean’s Fellow will conduct inquiries at various levels. Wrapping our heads around the numbers that we are fortunate to access from Institutional Research is important, but getting more in-depth perspectives directly from our students is critical.”

From how students were recruited, to why they chose their major, to what advice they have about improving their College experiences going forward, the process is meant to break the mold of speaking institutionally and dictating established norms. “The idea is to make a shift into a more authentic dialogue with all of our students,” Augustin said.  “This approach takes away the harsh self-judgment that can impose barriers on a student’s ability to learn. Instead of wasting energy trying to measure up to the standards set by another, they are empowered to bring their strengths to the table because their strengths add value.”

“It boils down to learning how to meaningfully communicate with students in a manner that resonates with them, rather than dictating a way of being and insisting they fall in line with it.” Augustin added, “I like the example of the Black Panther movies. The first film had record-breaking audience numbers, a majority Black cast of beautiful hues, and the characters were not the normalized negative stereotypes. This Black cast portrayed characters who were beautiful, powerful, regal, brilliant, innovative, thoughtful, and deeply cared about their community, which is typically the opposite of how Black people are portrayed in films.  I remember reading about people’s reactions to the first film right after it premiered, and the surprise in the tone of the filmmaking community because of the record-breaking success of the film. I thought to myself, ‘If you had only listened to us, we’ve been telling you for generations, this is how we want to be characterized because this represents who we are as a people.’ These Black writers and directors were intentional about giving us what we have been longing to see in films. It is so important to listen to as many of the voices as possible–not just the ones that scream the loudest.  Through this racial equity project, Dean Best is demonstrating to Black students there is a safe space for them to tell us what they need to accomplish their College goals, and they will be heard.”

Best concluded, “As we recruit more Black/African American students and others from minoritized and traditionally underserved populations, they must have confidence in us to support them through actualizing their visions of success. This starts with understanding and improving the college experience of our current Black/African American students.”

Read More: HHD Insights: Augustin’s Path to Becoming HHD Dean’s Fellow for Racial Equity

F 2023
Jean O’Sullivan with Frankie Augustin

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