Opinion: My deaf experience on campus

I remember the very first day I arrived at St. Kate’s. I was picked up at the airport by advisors from the international student’s office, they were both hearing and I felt a bit overwhelmed trying to lipread and talk. I came from a community college in California, with 200 other deaf students, and I used my hands to communicate the two years before transferring to St. Kate’s. I forgot how to use my voice, which I used when growing up, I used sign language mostly, but I learned how to talk just in case people do not know how to sign and I talked with them. The night I arrived, I went to cafeteria and I was feeling down, wanting to fly back to California. I was worried I would not meet many people who knew ASL. I was about to break down and wondered if I’d regret leaving California.

Renee Rietz

Renee Rietz

The following week, I was doing much better. I lived on the ASL floor and more and more people arrived for the semester. I was really relieved to see how many people on the floor knew ASL. because the first people I met didn’t know ASL, students from other floors seemed to just computers on the floor, and I thought, “Doesn’t anybody know ASL?”

The interpreters impressed me when I met them at orientation and in classes during my first week of college. They were highly qualified and many were graduates of St. Kate’s. I was impressed how the ASL Interpreting Department ensured to provide the best service for the Deaf community by using well trained interpreters. I am still impressed with the interpreters I met on the first week, they are still working for me. I find it hard when they miss work because sub-interpreters don’t do as well as they do. St. Kate’s makes sure that my permanent interpreters are the best quality, which I am grateful for! They even provide interpreters to any meetings that I attend and any on-campus jobs. I also happened to have many friends on the ASL floor who were training to become interpreters and I was blessed to see their skills building everyday as we socialized everyday. Even though I was the only deaf student on campus, I felt content having several ASL signers to have meaningful conversations with.

I’m a dietetics major and often in classes, many of my classmates do not know sign language, but they are respectful and they learn how to make sure I am still involved. A few even learned a lot of ASL, for example one of my best friends knew no ASL but is now fluent. I also meet classmates who told me they were studying ASL as their second language. I would still like to see more people knowing how to communicate with ASL, but I am grateful for what I have and all that St Kate’s has provided.

My professors also learned how critical it is to include closed captions in educational videos and any videos that they shared to the class, as it is not reliable to watch the interpreters when I am trying to watch a video. My professors have been very deaf friendly. They are flexible with my needs and would do anything to make sure I have equal access as my peers do. They respect my interpreters, as they watch their speaking speed and give good positions in the classroom for my interpreters to interpret from.

Whenever I enter a room or an area and people who know ASL saw me, they would immediately start using ASL, which make me feel respected as I could understand what is going on and what they are talking about. It shows that they are aware of expected manners in Deaf culture and they respect it, which impresses me.

I was also delighted when I found out that there were weekly ASL lunches with different ASL signers, training interpreters and some deaf staff. It made me feel at home having people to meet who knew ASL. I also was able to meet a deaf staff at the Post Office who made me feel welcome whenever I needed to get my mail or send a package off.

The ASL club on campus has been a huge benefit, as they provide events and opportunities to practice ASL. I have met many beginners in the club who are now fluent. The events go above and beyond; they got to have Sean Berdy, and John Macure, who I was super excited to meet because they showed me how deaf people could succeed. When I was growing up in Africa, I had no deaf role models to look up to, except for Mrs. Whitestone who was the first deaf Miss America in 1997. She signed a poster that my friend had and then sent all way to Africa, but I never met her personally. In Africa I often had no closed-captions on TV. There were no deaf actors, except for one from an old movie with Marlee Matlin but, again, it didn’t have closed captions and only Marlee was signing while the other actors were speaking. For that reason, I was delighted when I went to America for the first time and got to watch Switched at Birth, I was immediately glued to the TV show!! Overall, I was so touched that St. Kate is well known and good at getting inspiring speakers for students who can give them confidence that they can change the world with their unique characteristics, including us deaf people!

For safety, I am grateful for all of the work Public Safety has done. When something wasn’t working, they found an alternative way to ensure that I am safe and that I feel safe staying on campus. I have also made special requests to Residence Life, and they let me have access to safety devices so I would not be forced to move or stay in a room where I do not feel safe. They are learning more and more about how to give necessary access to a deaf student.

By Renee Reitz ’17

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