‘Our role is not to judge other people’: Nancy Gauvin shares plans for future DEI work as associate dean in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Image via The University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Nancy Gauvin, the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science’s new associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion.

By Abby Lipold, Staff Writer

Nancy Gauvin has stepped into a new role at Pitt that allows her to cultivate a more welcoming and inclusive community in a department she’s already familiar with.

Gauvin, a professor in the communication science and disorders department, began her new position as associate dean of diversity, equity, inclusion, and community engagement for the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences in April. 

Gauvin grew up in Queens, New York, speaking French and English. She attended several schools with different demographics, then taught at the University of Vermont in Burlington after receiving her Doctor of Education in speech-language pathology and organizational leadership from Nova Southeastern University. 

As a speech-language pathologist, Gauvin highlights the importance of empathy in the health sciences community and shares her goals for the future of DEI in Pitt’s health sciences program. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Pitt News: How does your background in speech and language pathology play a role in your passion for diversity, equity and inclusion? 

Nancy Gauvin: I like working with all patients. What’s great about the field of speech pathology is that you get to work with everyone. It really hones in your empathy and compassion for others that are struggling with communication disorders or communication difficulties. 

Working with underrepresented populations really heightened my awareness and empathy in working with those who have disorders and differences. It really made me want to work to provide a sense of belonging to people and help them improve their communication skills so they can be able to share their thoughts and feelings with everyone. So it added a nice lens of health concerns and health equity that I think would be useful in my new role.

TPN: How do your experiences with these types of patients (from underserved communities) add to the community of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Pitt? 

NG: Since I’m in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and I work in the health services and health sciences, it adds an extra lens of working with clients and patients and with families. 

[That experience helps] to make sure the students in our programs will be more equitable in how they treat their clients, patients and families. It adds an extra lens of understanding and belonging.

TPN: You’ve gone through many different environments during your education. How did going from a diverse environment to a primarily white high school influenced your research and your career?

 NG: It opened my eyes. I think I was almost protected in that diverse environment, not knowing that, you know, [discrimination and bias] is possible at all levels of education. It doesn’t matter what your position is. Now I know where we need to work with people and meet them where they are. And if we’re meeting people where they are, then we can work on creating a place that’s more inclusive. 

TPN: What are your plans for the DEI program in the School of Health Sciences? 

NG: I’m going to look at what’s working. We’re going to keep that going, right? [And then look at] the areas that are not working as smoothly as we would like in regards to creating an inclusive environment of belonging. 

That [includes] how we recruit students, how we retain students, how we recruit faculty and staff and how we retain them, looking at the curriculum and making sure that it’s as inclusive as possible and also looking at providing safe or brave spaces for students when they need them. This coming fall I’m going to be doing a workshop for our incoming students so there is an understanding of what equity and diversity look like in the health sciences.

TPN: Can you tell me a little bit about the Plan, Do, Study, Elevate initiative? (Plan, Do, Study, Elevate, a play off Plan-Do-Study-Act, is Gauvin’s plan for active improvement of inclusion in the SHRS program)

NG: Yes. The Plan is there. The Do is implementing everything. I want to do a SWOT analysis — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And there’s also SOAR, which is strengths, opportunities, achievements and results. I’ll be meeting with all the deans in SHRS and the associate deans as well, and interviewing them to see what is and is not working in their programs.

That’s the Do. Then there’s Study. I want to make my role as data-driven as possible. I want to have pre and post surveys and studies to see what’s working and what isn’t. I’m very quick to pivot if I need to. Elevate would be to elevate our programs in SHRS, so they create a better sense of belonging for students, faculty and staff.

TPN: As someone who has a lot of background working specifically with transgender students, how do you hope to support the transgender community, especially in light of controversial speakers students call “transphobic” coming to campus?

NG: Our role is not to judge other people. It’s to let people live their lives. And if there’s something that they need to address, [we can help by] providing those services in a very non-judgmental and caring way. It’s something that we should continue doing. 

In the communication sciences and disorders program, we partner with a voice center and work with the trans community there doing gender-affirming therapy. I no longer am in that realm anymore because of my new role and because I have other colleagues who were in that role before I came here. But I’m part of a group that meets twice a week as my schedule allows and works with the trans community. There’s a conference coming up in the fall that I’m going to be part of, and my role is to make what we do accessible to all. 

I will continue as best as I can within the roles that I am allowed and I can highlight what my colleagues are doing, so we’ll continue working on publications and papers and supporting the community as best as possible.