Defining underrepresentation of Deaf culture at Marian

Krystina Murphy, Writer

I got asked for the first time if I felt like I belonged on Marian’s campus, to which I responded with, “No.” This got me asking myself why this was and what could be done differently to change my experience at Marian. A part of the reason I do not feel like I belong on Marian’s campus is how unnoticed my culture isPurely based on looks, I look like I belong on campus—a stereotypical, Caucasian, female college student. Culturally,  however, I am excluded, mostly due to my physical hearing capabilities. That’s right—I’m Deaf.

At the age of eighteen, a week before Christmas I had not my first but my third stroke, and days later contracted mono from a school water fountain. On December 22, 2016 I woke up with only the memory of what hearing would be like. On December 23 I had my first unsuccessful audiology appointment. And on December 26 the results concluded that I was officially Deaf—Merry Christmas. This incident turned my entire life upside down and ultimately made me nervous to come to campus.  

Before enrollment, I sat down with Lisa Olig, director of Accessibility Resources and Academic Support and explained my physical limitations to her. As she addressed my concerns, she eased me into coming to Marian University. But what I lacked to ask was, “What is the presence of Deaf culture like here at Marian?”

From my year on campus so far, I have not found a community on campus. So, what do I mean by searching for a Deaf culture or community? Isn’t being deaf just loss of an individual’s hearing? Actually, it isn’t.  

Deaf culture does not necessarily include all who are deaf, but includes all who are brought together via their language, their values and beliefs, and even the way they act. Thus, this can include members who are hearing. One way deaf individuals distinguish themselves as a culture is to capitalize the word “Deaf,” and refocus the mainstream association that deaf people are “disabled.” This term implies that individuals who do not hear are “less than,” and that they should be fixed in some manner. In the Deaf community, instead of viewing this as a hearing “loss,” we view it instead as a Deaf “gain.”

According to the publication The Hearing World Must Stop Forcing Deaf Culture to Assimilate by Sara Novic in 2017, Too many hearing people view deafness as a deficiency rather than a separate linguistic context, worldview and culture.” This ultimately decreases the likelihood of either communities engaging in any form of communication. Thus, it creates a gap between communities instead of them emerging as one. One reason for this is because either community may feel threatened by the other, or there is a lack of education about deaf individuals and Deaf culture. 

On the first day in each of my classes, I address the professor, explain my situation, let them know what my capabilities are, and how they can help me. This is currently my junior year and not a single one of my teachers has ever experienced class with a deaf student before. Although they have all addressed my situation as I have asked, it represents the lack of deaf students on campus 

Having knowledge of the Deaf community allows each and every individual to experience a new perspective. In addition to this, learning proper etiquette on how to approach a deaf person in conversation allows both parties to feel comfortable and judgment-free.

From my experience, most people are overly cautious with me and my deaf friends because they are unsure how to communicate with us, leading them to yell and over-exaggerate when articulating words. If there was more education about the Deaf community offered, especially on college campuses, it could help those who may not feel comfortable approaching a deaf person without knowing proper etiquette.

As I continue my education here, I hope to find this sense of belongingness and the presence of individuals who are deaf, along with those who adequately know sign language and who are interested in the culture itself. Students should be able to connect with those who have different cultural backgrounds, and I hope that we as students and staff can ensure that this diversity is accepted.