Deaf students are fundamental to the Deaf Studies program. Randy Neilson/UVU Review

Why Deaf students are vital to university’s purpose

Deaf Studies is an integral part of the university and the Deaf students within that program, as with any other cultural group, are an asset to the school.

UVU’s Deaf Studies Department is internationally acclaimed, is home to the Deaf Studies Today! Conference and produces skilled interpreters and educators. But with only 52 Deaf students, the university should be appealing more to them rather than resting on the laurels of the program to bring them to campus.

“If it wasn’t for the Deaf students,” said Deaf Studies Associate Professor William Garrow, “we wouldn’t have this program.”
The passion ignited within the program is partly due to these Deaf students. Having daily face-to-face interaction with them and access to their stories brings the material to life in a way that ASL classes without Deaf students lack.

“Deaf people bring to the classroom a social experience and understanding that most people do not have and will never be able to access,” said Flavia Fleischer, assistant Deaf Studies professor and linguist. “Having Deaf students [in the classroom] provides an opportunity for people to gain a better understanding of what it means to be human and of the human variation.”

The history of Deaf people is one of oppression. Deaf people have consistently been limited by the “hearing” majority.

Forced into oral schools that don’t allow full use of language through signing, they have instead been imposed with limited expression of orality or perverse forms of sign language.

This language-deprivation and attitude toward them has inherently placed the Deaf under a weighty oppression. They argue that for them, the civil rights movement is a contemporary battle.

“The more I am involved with the program, the more I see how oppressed the Deaf community is. … They are the ones who experience the oppression. As hearing students, we just take a lot for granted,” said Reah Goodrich, a Deaf Studies major.

Deaf Studies students are encouraged to become allies and use their skills and passion to be activists for the Deaf community.

It’s important that hearing students have the opportunity to meet, interact with and build friendships with Deaf students if this goal is to be obtained.

“We want to make sure that everybody is involved and feels welcome to the ASL Club,” said ASL Club Treasurer LauraKay Hunt, “but we also want to do activism work. We’re here to make a change and we’re here to impact the school.”

Deaf, as well as hearing, students know what it is to be engaged in the school and in the community. They are members of clubs, presenting at conferences and part of other extracurricular activities. Some hearing students even take the initiative of attending an LDS Deaf ward each Sunday.

Many of these additional activities are not for class or to fulfill program requirements; students are just passionate about the cause with which they have aligned themselves.

“We are a very good example of what it means to be actively resisting the oppression of the Deaf,” said Garrow.

The essence of Deaf Studies is to resist oppression and break the barriers of physical differences within a society still learning to be tolerant.

“Ultimately, many of our Deaf Studies majors become allies for the Deaf community and this empowers our deaf students, who become leaders within their community groups, and allies to other minorities as well,” said Fleischer. “To be an ally, one must understand the minority experience and this, in essence, also translates into the importance of becoming allies for all minority groups.”

As Deaf people are able to overcome whatever barriers are set before them, the university and community in turn,will become more desirable to other minority groups.