Ph.D. Student Helps African American Women Heal From Domestic Violence, Trauma

April 13, 2023 | News, Student Success, UToday, Alumni, Health and Human Services, Judith Herb College of Education
By Krystal Clark

Throughout her life, Randi Owensby saw injustice in her community and decided to do something about it.

In 2009 Owensby became the first in her family to attend college. Twelve years later, she is now in pursuit of her fourth degree at The University of Toledo.

The core of Owensby’s mission is to help women of color understand their trauma and heal from their mistakes and misfortunes.

Randi Owensby smiles at camera in front of blue background

Randi Owensby

Growing up in inner-city Cleveland, the doctor of social foundations of education student had her heart set on becoming a criminal attorney. She began her journey at UToledo as an undergraduate student, studying criminal justice.

Slowly, Owensby realized that her career path of becoming an attorney did not match her mission.

“I love gaining an understanding of the criminal mind, so that’s why I pursued criminal justice,” Owensby said. “But the deeper I got into the field, the more I understood that criminal justice takes a punitive approach and does not really dive too in-depth with understanding the psychology of the individual’s mind. I am not a punitive person; I want to rehabilitate.”

Disillusioned, but determined to succeed, she found her footing in a new career – social work.
After graduating from UToledo with graduate degrees in criminal justice and social work, Owensby vowed to use her newfound knowledge to help others.

“Social work can intertwine with criminal justice, and I can still work with the criminal justice population,” she said. “I’m not implementing punishment, but helping them to restructure their way of thinking or to see past their traumas, or to help them to understand that there is life beyond the barriers that they’ve experienced due to their environment.”

Alongside her studies, Owensby works as a drug and alcohol therapist with both survivors and perpetrators of domestic violence.

It was a major reason why she decided to further her education and gain a doctoral degree.

“Although I provide therapy, that’s still a form of educating another individual,” Owensby said. “So with foundations of education, my whole goal is to focus on the community educational aspects by shedding a light on domestic violence and prevention, specifically concerning African American women, while also being able to educate community stakeholders on the historical traumas in African American women’s lives, and how we have to work together in order to help them heal.”

Throughout her journey as a doctoral student, Owensby has operated under the guidance of her mentor, Dr. Lynne Hamer, a professor and program coordinator in the Judith Herb College of Education.

“She brought an opportunity to me to teach EDU1700,” Owensby said. “She’s played a very big role in my experience. I’ve learned from her that it is OK to challenge or step outside of your positionality in order to learn. I felt that the whole department has invested in my dreams through their support.”

Hamer said Owensby’s passion for social work and clear vision for what she wants to achieve had led her to success.

“Randi is working in such an invisible field and is so determined to make a difference,” Hamer said. “When she was teaching EDU 1700 ‘Introduction to Education,’ her willingness to share her views and experiences candidly led to our being able to improve the course.”

Owensby said teaching the entry level class gave her the experience and confidence she needed to believe she could be an effective educator both as a social work professional and in academia.

“It also provided students from different diversities different perspectives of education and how to work with students, despite what their backgrounds have been, giving them an understanding of the importance of what it means to be culturally competent, to be diverse, and to treat individuals with human dignity and respect,” Owensby said.

With one year left in her studies, Owensby is already prepared to move into a new role in her career.

She is set to become a social worker at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, where she hopes to bring not only the therapeutic approach, but also an educational approach to help women heal and learn from their experiences.

“I think the reason why I pursue different avenues of education is because I don’t ever want to just be a one-track mind,” Owensby said. “I feel like all my degrees go hand-in-hand with one another. And so with that, I’m able to uplift and shed light on injustices and advocate for women in marginalized groups who are invisible, silenced and forgotten.”

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