I Learned About The Deaf Community Through My Fraternity | Journal

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This post was first published to Fraternal Journal, an extension of Fraternity Man hosted on Medium.com. It is open to all who wish to contribute life lessons or fond memories of timeless traditions related to the fraternity|sorority experience.

One unexpected benefit of my fraternity experience   was greater exposure to and understanding of the deaf community.

My chapter of Delta Sigma Phi was the only operating chapter in Florida throughout my undergraduate experience. We were 3–4 hours away from the closest chapter in Georgia. Only one consultant visited over the course of four years. It is safe to say that we did not come expect many visitors to DeLand.

In fact, only two fraternity brothers ever made an unexpected pilgrimage down to DeLand. Both came from our chapter at Gallaudet University and both were deaf. I remember meeting one, who we will call John, while at an intramural game and chatting by texting one another.

A Greater Understanding Working For The Fraternity

I saw our educational programming   from the side of the planners while a staffer at the national office. Deaf students were always in attendance, and so I built relationships with many students and our regular interpreters.

Many fraternities|sororities do not or forget to hire interpreters. That may be due to the perceived cost, or just a general misjudgment of the diversity of an organization’s membership. We were lucky (and ahead of the curve, in many ways) to have interpreters. Even still, I noticed several blind-spots in our communication efforts while a fraternity staffer. Our videos were not captioned, and our ritual was a listening experience.

Growing Our Delta Sig Deaf Community

Delta Sigma Phi was one of the first fraternities to charter an all-deaf or mostly deaf chapter. We at one point had three or more mostly deaf chapters operating at the same time. During my time as a member; however, there was only ever one – at Gallaudet University.

I knew I could change that through my role as Director of Fraternity Growth.

Thankfully, members of our Eta Eta chapter at Rochester Institute of Technology approached me to re-establish their historically deaf chapter. Our recruiters established a thriving chapter at the university by utilizing local interpreters and lots of texting. There were finally members from more than one deaf chapter at our national programs.

That may sound trivial or cheesy, but it had a fascinating effect on our relationship with our student members. I was able to better get to know each of the students from our mostly deaf chapters as they got to know and share more about one another.

Fraternity, it seemed, could genuinely serve as a cultural education experience. Students at our Arizona State chapter began to learn American Sign Language (ASL) after recruiting a deaf student. We did not have much to offer in terms of support. Our staff tried to recruit a blind student at a new chapter in the Southeast. Unfortunately, our documents were not in the correct format to use with his reading device.

These were missteps and learning moments, and they have been or will hopefully be addressed soon.

Broadening Our Reach To Share The Value Of Fraternity

There are thousands of deaf members of college fraternities. Still, fraternities still have a ways to go to better communicate the benefits of brotherhood to all.

I am not the only fraternity man to acknowledge the need for broader communication efforts. Unfortunately, it is almost never a conversation at fraternity|sorority conferences. Beyond the deaf community, we face language barriers with native speakers of Spanish, those who are blind, and beyond. Let’s talk less about prohibition and privilege and do more to expand access.

It goes beyond hiring interpreters: Organizations need to consider how their resources are consumed, how their governing documents are understood, and how to communicate with all members. Fraternity leaders must consider how to strengthen sharing and communication between all members.

Leadership Is Communication

A concerted effort should be made among fraternities to cover the cost of communicating to a broader audience.

For that reason, when setting up a RedBubble store for Fraternity Man, I decided to put all proceeds from the “YITBOS” collection items (linked above) to an eventual fund to support accessible communication efforts within my fraternity.

Such a fund may help pay to caption videos. It could be used to hire interpreters, or to develop alternative methods of delivering the ritual. (deaf students, for example, perform all of our ceremonies with their eyes open because they communicate with their hands. Will we take that into account with our next set of updates?).

I would like to work toward making these considerations a part of our leaders’ native thinking processes. How are we communicating the value of fraternity at the broadest level.

Exposure to people who communicate differently from myself was one of the greatest takeaways from my fraternity experience. I think that too little of the public understands how those worldview-shifting benefits of fraternity membership come into being.

Join In!

Beyond the “YITBOS” collection, I am happy to help others interested in strengthening their organization’s communication reach. Connect with me via the comments or on social media. Lets talk about what we can create to inspire your members.

-Nik