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American Sign Language class spring 2016

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Student Plans Hampshire Deaf Studies Conference To Remove Barriers

Googie Daniels is committed to bridging the hearing and Deaf communities through her Division III project, including launching a new Deaf Studies conference this month.

In Googie Daniels’ first semester at Hampshire, she decided to take a course in American Sign Language, hoping it would be more enjoyable than other language courses she’d taken. On her first day of class, the professor used sign language to introduce an interpreter, but announced this would be the last day the interpreter was available; starting with the next session, the students would only be allowed to use American Sign Language in class. While Daniels admits she felt a split-second fear to drop the class, her self-proclaimed stubbornness took control. Her decision to persevere paid off in a big way: unlocking her passion.

Googie Daniels
Googie Daniels

Daniels, now a fourth-year student, is committed to bridging the hearing and Deaf communities within the bounds of her Division III project. Her Division III thesis project comprises two major components: writing two audience research studies on portrayals of d/Deafness in mainstream media, and serving as lead organizer on a new Deaf Studies conference to be hosted at Hampshire the last week of March.

Daniels explains that before college, she didn’t really know there was a Deaf culture and community.

Daniels cites her first ASL professor, Ruth Moore, who recently retired from teaching at Hampshire, as the catalyst for her love of the language. During that first day of ASL class, after the interpreter left and Professor Moore was just speaking in ASL, Daniels says, “I really started to look at Ruth and saw pure joy and love and enthusiasm for teaching just exude out of her. I really fell in love with Ruth. I think she’s one of the most wonderful humans I have ever encountered.”

Moore likewise feels great admiration for her former student and for her activism, accomplishments, and on-going work. “She is truly an exceptional student at Hampshire College and is giving great influence to people here,” Moore says. “She really is an advocate.”

The written components of Daniels’ Division III project involve audience research studies of a video showing a cochlear implant being used on an eight-month-old baby, and an all-ASL episode of the popular ABC Family (now renamed Freeform) show Switched at Birth.

“The media is how you end up perceiving people,” Daniels says. “You look at any group and most of their representations in media are stereotypical, so that’s what we encode and internalize and then in turn, that affects how we react to and treat people.”

Daniels’ idea to also organize a Deaf Studies conference as part of her Division III promises to have a personal impact bridging the hearing and Deaf communities. This semester she is co-organizing the new conference, named DEAFinitions: A Deaf Studies Conference, with the help of the Hampshire College American Sign Language Collective, many sponsors from within the Five Colleges, and fellow student organizers Julia Kersten from Hampshire, Caitlin Barry-King and Katie Tyler from Mt. Holyoke College, and Susannah Wright from UMass. All of the organizers have different reasons for investing in the project, ranging from their individual studies, to wanting to communicate with Deaf family members. But they’re all dedicated to working together producing a conference that will achieve some important goals.

Daniels elaborates on one of the most important ones: to bridge the gap between the hearing and Deaf communities. She touches on how most hearing people, including herself until coming to Hampshire, typically have little to no interaction with the Deaf community. “Even if people don’t think they have a direct connection to learning about deafness, there are so many intersections and overlaps that people don’t really think of,” she says. She hopes the event will inspire attendees to consider ways to make everyone feel welcome in all spheres, and ways to ensure accessibility for everyone.

She says another goal of the conference is to bring awareness to the need for more ASL courses within the Five Colleges. Currently, Hampshire is the only college that provides ASL classes. And while ASL I and II are always available at Hampshire, there is a greater interest and need for ASL III and IV to be offered at Hampshire and supported by the Five Colleges. “ASL has been the most popular Five College class for at least a decade,” Daniels claims, adding, the demand for all levels of ASL courses often exceeds the availability of seats in the classes. The conference organizers are actively advocating to change that.

DEAFintions: A Deaf Studies Conference is a free, two-day event on March 25-26, 2016, open to everyone. Registration is required at www.tinyurl.com/deafinitions. The event will be held in Franklin Patterson Hall at Hampshire and will feature many group discussions, presentations, interactive workshops, exhibitor tables, and more, all detailed on the conference website. To ensure accessibility, interpreters and remote captioning services will be available at a majority of the activities and presentations.

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