International Week of the Deaf, also known as Deaf Awareness Week, is an initiative that was established by World Federation of the Deaf and first launched in Rome, Italy in 1958. The goal of the initiative is to celebrate Deaf people and this celebration takes place annually during the last full week of September. The theme for 2021’s International Week of the Deaf is “Celebrating Thriving Deaf Communities” (World Federation of the Deaf).
In support of the International Week of the Deaf, the Michael D. Eisner College of Education and the Department of Deaf Studies is proud to highlight three individuals who are in the Deaf Studies Department and are stakeholders to our thriving Deaf Community at CSUN. This is to help promote awareness of the Deaf community and to celebrate Deaf people throughout the world. As we all only have one world, we need to continue to work together in solidarity to celebrate our differences and make the world an equitable place for all.
Senior, Deaf Studies, Deaf Education option
Nicolas (Nick) Conway is a senior majoring in Deaf Studies, Deaf Education option. His whole world has revolved around Deaf culture as his parents and grandparents are Deaf and his whole family communicated using American Sign Language (ASL). Everything in his world has been accessible so it’s no surprise that his passion and determination lies to empower the Deaf community by being an activist to work against systems of oppression of Deaf people. “I view my role in the Deaf community as a protector and guardian for Deaf rights. I also see myself as an ally to support all marginalized individuals and my goal is to create a better ecosystem for the entire Deaf community.” Nick explained that CSUN is very respected in the Deaf community as well as resourceful, empathetic, and justice oriented, “Deaf students that come to CSUN leave stronger because of their experience at CSUN. CSUN has such a strong bridge between hearing and Deaf people and I like that vibe, seeing both worlds working together.”
Nick is serving as president of Deaf Studies Association (DSA) for the 2021-2022 academic year. DSA is a student organization rooted in the Deaf Studies Department. Their mission is to promote Deaf Culture through the use of ASL and discuss the knowledge of issues that apply directly to the Deaf community. Nick draws on his many experiences and natural gifts to lead DSA. “I’m creative, motivated, a visionary and very empathetic. I tend to be very positive, have lots of patience, and I provide guidance, wisdom, and advocacy with members at different stakes. I understand the general issues and problems that both the Deaf and hearing worlds experience so I have a high ability to lead and support our members.” A goal that Nick has for DSA this year is to bring back more in-person events. Nick explained that the last year has been difficult doing everything on Zoom. “The Deaf depends a lot on physical contact, we depend on connection, looking into someone’s eyes, tapping their shoulder when you want their attention. We hope to get back to in-person events this year.”
Nick plans to continue his education at CSUN and will apply to the Master’s in Deaf Education and eventually pursue a doctorate in Deaf Culture or Educational Administration. His ultimate goal is to be in a position to network and advocate for Deaf students. Nick explains that often times hearing administrators are making decisions on behalf of Deaf people and most times those decisions are a contradiction to what is actually best for Deaf people. “We don’t like hearing people making decisions for us. We want hearing people to give us authority to make decisions for ourselves, we should have that right.” Nick sees himself serving the Deaf community by serving on a Board of Education or maybe even in the California Department of Education. For now, Nick wants society to understand that “Being deaf is a long journey, it takes a lifetime to complete that journey. It applies to language, communication, culture, and Deaf norms. We want to make sure Deaf people have the right to make decisions for ourselves politically and related to education. We need to make sure that hearing people understand and respect our culture, the same way we give respect to theirs.”
Deaf Studies Administrative Support Coordinator
Rachel Reilly is the Deaf Studies Administrative Support Coordinator, but she was a Matador long before she became staff as she earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology at CSUN in 2010. Prior to attending CSUN she attended Gallaudet University and recalled her experience as a culture shock. “I never in my life attended a fully deaf campus, I have always been my own interpreter but at Gallaudet, I was able to express myself freely because I didn’t have to interpret for anyone.” Though she felt free at Gallaudet she wanted to attend a university that had more name recognition and a bigger community impact so she transferred to CSUN. Rachel never imagined she would return to CSUN as staff and she is grateful she did. “I really enjoy my job and being behind the scenes assisting students, I like the feeling of being under pressure, meeting deadlines, but most importantly I feel like this is my opportunity to give back to the Deaf Community.” Rachel’s curiosity pushed her to consider jobs in the hearing world but didn’t go through with it. “I knew if I took a job in the hearing world, part of my identity wouldn’t flourish.” Rachel is especially grateful that she in the Deaf Studies Department. “I never felt so connected and supported all in one place. There is a very positive vibe here and I don’t experience extra obstacles while doing my job because I am deaf. Everything feels normal because I can communicate with anyone I want to, it’s a very lovely situation to be in.”
Rachel has a lot of interests. She has taken piano and ballet lessons, was a model, an actor, worked at the non-profit GLAD (Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness). She partakes in different hobbies: break dancing, Hawaiian dancing and different sports such as Martial Arts, she has even competed in Jiu-Jitsu competitions… “I love learning about myself and I never want to stop growing. I see life as one big journey.” Rachel lives a very full life and wants people to know that she (and any other deaf person) can do anything that a hearing person can do. “The hearing cannot understand a world without sound. It’s seriously mind-blowing when people ask us really dumb questions…can you read? Can you write? Can you drive? Sincere, genuine questions are welcomed because it helps the hearing world learn and understand the Deaf and Hard of Hearing world. But stop with the really dumb, insensitive questions.”
Rachel highlighted two of her Deaf role models: Dr. Flavia Fleischer and Jeremy Lee Stone. Dr. Fleischer is the chair of Deaf Studies and has created a culture where the whole Deaf Studies Department is one. “Flavia’s leadership has played a huge role for the entire team to work as one and respect one another and I never had that experience at any other job; I never get lost in the shuffle.” Her friend, Jeremy Lee Stone, who recently was a consultant on the motion picture The Sound of Metal and the founder of ASL NYC, strives to break down barriers for Deaf people and people of color, “I can’t wait to see what other projects come up because of Jeremy’s vision and leadership.” Rachel leaves her door open for any opportunity where she can learn, develop and grow professionally and personally. Respect and integrity is a value that is important to Rachel as she lives by this quote as her guiding principle, “No matter how educated, talented, rich, or cool you believe you are, how you treat people, ultimately says everything. Integrity is everything.”
Deaf Studies Academic Advisor
Jasmine Solis’ career jumpstarted when she took American Sign Language (ASL) in high school as her foreign language requirement. Her teacher suggested volunteering at a local Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) summer school program. After developing a passion for volunteering as a teacher’s aide for ASL Classes geared toward parents with children who were deaf or hard of hearing, she decided to pursue a degree in Deaf Studies at CSUN. After graduating from CSUN with a focus on ASL/English Interpreting, she briefly taught ASL at a private school but decided to pursue other opportunities in the field. “I strongly believe that Deaf and Hard of Hearing people should hold the dominant majority when it comes to teaching ASL, leading me to want to find another avenue in the field of education.” This decision brought Jasmine back to CSUN as the Academic Advisor for the Deaf Studies Department. “Serving as an Academic Advisor is an honor, and allows me to fulfill my passion of working within the field of education and still have a connection with the Deaf Community.”
Because Jasmine is hearing, she sees her role to an ally of the Deaf Community and offer support in whatever capacity she is asked to serve, “My role is to amplify members of the Deaf Community, advocate for Deaf Voice; allowing Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals be in the spotlight rather than hearing individuals who learned about the Deaf Community from members of the Deaf Community. The Deaf Community and Deaf Culture belongs to Deaf People. Anything we learn from the Deaf Community, about their language, community, or their culture belongs rightfully so to them, and the wealth of knowledge they choose to share with the hearing world is a gift from the Deaf Community. I think it is key for society, especially those who are hearing and interested in becoming involved with the Deaf Community, to remember that Deaf People should pioneer, lead, and be the face when it comes to advocating for Deaf Rights, spreading awareness of the Deaf Community/Deaf Culture and filling key roles in the community.”
Jasmine looks forward to the 2021-2022 academic year to continue supporting students on their academic journey, deaf and hearing alike, striving to serve in the Deaf Community, and to share the vision of serving as an ally to incoming hearing students while supporting Deaf people in the fight for equity for all peoples, and to encourage Deaf and Hard of Hearing students to reach for their goals. “My motivation comes from knowing that I can share and spread the vision for future allies of the Deaf community and to continue to be the best me that I can be.”