Austin came to Michigan for his doctorate because of the faculty. “That was the deciding factor for me. My research interests were focused on the Midwest, and U-M was the best fit.”
An Ohio native, Austin completed his undergraduate and master’s degree in African American and African Studies at OSU, and a master’s in History at Kent State. His research focuses on progressives in Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago and how they responded to industrial and fiscal crisis of the 1970s and 80s. Austin describes, “I’m interested in what happened to the powerful social movements of the 60s in the Midwest. Watching what happened in my hometown of Mansfield, Ohio definitely influenced my research. I was struck by the exodus of industrial plants and the drain of human resources that resulted.”
His dissertation challenges conventional narratives about the fate of the U.S. left after the 60s and urban decline. He explains, “My research is analyzing progressive responses to the transformation of U.S. cities within the larger dynamic of globalization. My goal is to offer a broader view of the possibilities activists and policymakers considered while trying to revitalize cities.”
Out of his hometown experience also stemmed a heavy involvement in diversity work, beginning in his days as an undergraduate. “Our conversations revolved around attracting students of color from the local high school. Job loss and economic decline was at the root of the problem.”
Like many graduate students, Austin doesn’t have much downtime. “I love listening to, and writing about hip hop culture. I’m a sports fan and play basketball when I can. Most of my time this semester has been spent writing, teaching, and organizing.”
One of the key organizers of the Speak Out event to foster a dialogue around diversity issues at U-M, Austin is actively involved in raising awareness and sparking change to create a more inclusive and diverse campus. “The undergraduates here are really motivated and active on a different level than graduate students are. He explains, “I’m here to learn from them, give and receive help. I think I needed to be here, at U-M, to help address concerns of underrepresented minority students. I went where I was needed. I took my accumulated experience and have been able to apply it here. It is fulfilling to help others speak out. The more active the student body, the better the campus community you’ll have. I want to support people trying to change the environment.”
Austin’s work beyond the history department reflects his values and interests as well. He is a contributor to Nursing Clio—a blog that connects the practice of history to contemporary issues of gender and medicine. In 2011, Austin helped the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History launch a digital exhibit on African Americans in the Civil War as an Arts of Citizenship summer intern. He plans to do a lot of writing this summer, specifically as a member of the select Community of Scholars, a fellowship program designed to foster cross-disciplinary exchange, sponsored by the Institute on Research for Women and Gender and the Rackham Graduate School.
And after years studying at OSU and living in Ohio, he says the U-M and OSU rivalry isn’t an issue for him. Still, he didn’t say what color sweatshirt he wears on that last football game day in the fall…