A deeper look into the Deaf culture on campus

St. Kate’s is highly regarded in the Deaf community. It is also a huge draw for prospective students seeking to study American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting. Walking around the St. Kate’s campus, it seems as if we have a pretty diverse campus, and many schools around the U.S. advertise to prospective students as diverse. It’s true, St.Kate’s is diverse, we see a whole range of ethnicities, genders, and religions. Such a diverse community, especially in a Catholic university, is certainly something to boast about. However, one thing that separates St. Kate’s even more so from other diverse campuses is our inclusion of the Deaf Community members on campus.

As Gloria Nathanson, a deaf St. Kate’s Associate Professor of American Sign Language says, “Audism is a form of discrimination based on the ability to hear. When we discuss many discrimination on campus, racial, gender, religious, etc.. ableism or audism is often left out of the conversation. I think it is important to become educated about that as well.” If we are to claim our campus is truly diverse, we cannot forget the deaf community.

To be able to fully include the deaf community, it is important to understand what it is. “Deaf Culture is a transnational subculture. It is unique as the members of the culture can share its values and norms with the dominant culture of where they reside while simultaneously have shared experiences, values, and norms with the micro-culture of Deaf Culture globally. The underlying value is sign language and collectivism,” Professor Nathanson explains.

“When a capital D is used in Deaf, it identifies the person as a member of the Deaf Culture. It is often an ‘invisible’ one as this culture often exists in everyone’s community but often is unnoticed by the majority culture until they become aware of them then they may suddenly be more sensitive and conscious about it. While it is fundamentally necessary to have hearing loss, it is possible to be hearing and part of Deaf culture (i.e. children of deaf parents, etc.). Deaf people are visuo-centric people,” said Professor Nathanson.

As Professor Nathanson explained, besides the physically deaf individuals there are others who are involved in Deaf culture. There are a number of students on campus who have deaf parents, Children of Deaf Adults, referenced to as CODA’s. One student on campus, Jade Rundquist ’18, ASL interpreting major, comes from a Deaf family.

“I didn’t really notice anything was “different” about me until I got older, like maybe 7 or 8, but it didn’t really change anything. I was able to go to CODA camp from ages 9-16 every summer, which really made my childhood better.” Rundquist said. “As I got older, I realized there were a lot of cultural norms from Deaf culture that made me “Stick out” in the hearing world. I think that I am part of the Deaf community but in my own CODA way. I’m not sure if I am the best person to define Deaf culture, as it is not my culture to share.”

Deaf Professor Lisa Rutland of St. Catherine University shares her story of growing into the Deaf community, “I was born Deaf. Actually, my parents didn’t know I was Deaf until I was almost 4. I started with oralism and the communication was challenging and frustrating. Then I met a Deaf couple who introduced me to American Sign Language. I knew it was my language and have been using it ever since.”

Sign language is a crucial part of Deaf Culture, Rutland says, “I have used ASL to communicate wherever I have journeyed throughout my life. I cannot imagine growing up not knowing ASL! This language has helped me evolve into who I am today. I am forever grateful for people who have been involved in my life and with what they have given me and now I am able to give back to the deaf community as well as the hearing community.” She is proud of the deaf community at St. Kate’s and feels she is welcomed. She explains, “I am awed at the strong reputation the ASL & Interpreting Department has and how it is a visible and vibrant part of campus life!”

Renee Reitz ’17 is a Dietetics major and deaf student on campus. Recently, she submitted an article to The Wheel regarding her deaf experience on campus. She shares how impressed she is of how accommodating and open St. Kate’s has been to her as a deaf student. She notes that she is especially thankful for the coordination of the ASL interpreting department, the ASL club and her peers.

Zofia Levendowski ’18, ASL interpreting major, feels personally that she is a bit of an outsider in the Deaf community. Although she has close friends who are deaf, she feels it is not in her place to speak on behalf of other Deaf community members. She does, however, have a lot of insight into the deaf world and has had a taste as to what it is like to be deaf on campus. She feels St. Kate’s does have exceptional accommodations but says, “there is a lot of room for improvement.”

“We are very proud of our reputation at St. Kate’s for having a vibrant community that cares for the disenfranchised, especially those who are disabled. It is not uncommon for Deaf people to face adversity, especially in higher education, and I have heard stories of worse situations at bigger universities,” said Levendowski. “However, I find it ironic that we encounter so many systemic issues when we are well-known and spoken well of in the Deaf community. If I could change one thing about St. Kate’s, I would put more people in power who were well-acquainted with Deaf Culture, especially in Admissions, and Residence Life. The Deaf community passes information by word of mouth, and if we had systemic change, we could attract more Deaf individuals to St. Kate’s.”

Levendowski’s ’s comment about St.Kate’s welcoming of the Deaf community reflects what Professor Nathanson shared:

“This university has shown commitment to being as inclusive as much as possible. They’re willing to be open to dialogues on how to improve things and then act on it. They’re much more mindful than other universities I’ve visited. I am extremely impressed and appreciative of the efforts of so many people on campus. This is definitely a strength and highlight of the university.”

St. Kate’s is on the right track, but Levendowski’s advice about including people who are deaf or highly conscious of the Deaf community of campus in the higher positions at St. Kate’s would be a valuable step forward. All of us can make an effort to help more people feel included.

Professor Rutland shared an interesting story that we can all learn from: “I remember visiting Paris, France and I was a bit lost in the area. I approached a Frenchman asking for directions. He looked at me and walked away. I thought to myself, how rude! With time and thought, I realized that I needed to learn French. So, I studied the language. Then I met another French woman and wrote, “s’il vous plait.” She smiled and was willing to help me with directions. It is the same for people who wish to get involved with Deaf people. ASL is the way to learn and to communicate with us.”

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