The Deaf community is one that is not often talked about, but that does not mean it does not exist, and students at Salisbury University worked to raise its awareness with the first ever “Deaf is Not Dumb” event.
Junior and SU’s Student Government Association’s current Director of Diversity and Inclusion Jhane Taylor emphasized that the Deaf community is often disregarded when people think of diverse cultures, and that’s something that she hopes will change with the event.
“Most people don’t even know that we have a deaf population on campus,” Taylor said. “Bringing this event will spark something that will bring more attention to an otherwise neglected community.”
In the aspects of future growth for the event, Taylor wants to make “Deaf is Not Dumb” a part of the “SU is Us” initiative — making the event annual so that awareness grows and goes beyond the campus to make a bigger impact.
SU freshman and candidate for SGA’s director for diversity and inclusion next year, Dorien Rogers, is not deaf, but he considers himself a member of the Deaf community.
Rogers initially got the idea to put on the “Deaf is Not Dumb” event through the influence and teachings of his high school American Sign Language teacher Meredith Maclauchlan.
Rogers emphasized the fact that Maclauchlan did more than just teach sign language, for she taught her students how to be more connected with a community of diverse peoples.
“I want people to come together no matter what background, no matter what race or gender, just to come together and celebrate a community that is not really talked about,” Rogers said.
Prior to the event, SU students were asked to take a survey so the event coordinators could get a better idea of misconceptions and areas where people were lacking knowledge of the culture.
The survey included questions such as “How would you define Deaf culture?” and “What is the difference is between capital ‘D’ Deaf and lowercase ‘d’ deaf?”
The event consisted of the answers to these questions along with a variety of basic teachings and games to integrate the greater SU community into the Deaf community.
Everyone at the event was given a handout teaching the finger spellings of the Deaf alphabet. Rogers invited the crowd to introduce themselves by doing the finger spellings of their name to their neighbors first and then to the rest of the room.
“With this event, each year I want it to incorporate a bigger, more enhanced version of what it was in the past," Rogers said. “So, this year we’re going to start out simple with finger spellings, and as you expand — just like any language — you start to get more articulate and fluent with your signing.”
Rogers emphasized that it’s not necessary to be “electric fast” and completely fluent in one's signing, for the Deaf community appreciates any effort and most are patient in that it is a learning process.
Following practicing the alphabet and introductions, attendees were then taught how to sign their favorite animals — signs ranging from things as simple as a cat to as complex as a unicorn were taught.
The newly learned signs were then incorporated into games to make the learning experience more fun and interactive.
SU senior and international student Sally Badajos is currently enrolled in the ASL course offered at SU and attended the event to put her newly learned language to use.
Badajos found the event important because she thinks more people should be educated in Deaf culture.
“The Deaf community is not really interacted with, mainly because we don’t know how to communicate with them, so I feel for that culture,” Badajos said. “They are being segregated.”
The future vision for the "Deaf is Not Dumb" event is to build the initiative so as awareness is heightened the curriculum of ASL at SU will expand.
Currently, SU offers one ASL course taught by professor Jonathan Blackmon — however, Rogers hopes that the event will bring about the possibility for more courses like ASL history, Spanish Sign Language, Chinese Sign Language and more.
The entire event was interpreted by fluent ASL instructor Stephen Hause, who explained that he “married into the Deaf community,” and ultimately fell in love with the language and the culture.
Hause became so passionate with Deaf culture that he became an interpreter, working for national agencies as well as being an ASL interpretive pastor for a local church.
“I got into it as a need that became a passion,” Hause said. “Throughout the community, there needs to be a lot of awareness … it affects business, economy and the ability for people to get jobs. Events like this help to encourage awareness and educate people, and that’s probably the most important thing.”
By CAROLINE STREETT
Gull Life editor
Featured photo: Emma Reider images.