Every year, Deaf Awareness Month is hosted during September, with the World Day of the Deaf falling on the last Sunday of the month. This year, a local campus organization is working hard to make sure that students, deaf and hearing alike, experience the unique power of sign language.
Signing Raiders is a local organization at Texas Tech that creates a community of American Sign Language students.
Izzy Stanford is a fourth-year language and cultures student from Salt Lake City, Utah, and currently serves as the president of Signing Raiders. Stanford said that Signing Raiders is an open organization to all students, regardless of their ASL fluency.
“The only qualification to be in the org is an interest in ASL,” Stanford said. “We have a few board members who are not in any ASL classes whatsoever. It branches all the way to ASL one through ASL six. We have varying levels of students.”
Stanford said Signing Raiders aims to educate and engage the campus with ASL and deaf culture.
“The biggest thing is that we want to promote language use and educate ourselves on ASL related topics like deaf culture, (the) deaf-blind experience, things like that,” Stanford said. “We really love to promote language use and making connections within the Lubbock deaf community.”
One of the organization’s most popular events is Deaf Coffee Chat, where students get to meet and interact with deaf community members.
“We meet with the deaf community at least once a month and that’s usually at Deaf Coffee Chat,” Stanford said. “Deaf Coffee Chat is just a social event that is put on by the deaf community, but it’s open to ASL students, Tech faculty and staff, outside interpreters, local interpreters, etc. We just all come together.”
Stanford is pursuing a concentration in ASL/English interpretation, and garnered a love for the language when she was a little girl.
“I just discovered the language as a really young kid,” Stanford said. “I was in the grocery store with my mom and I saw a deaf woman signing to her asking if she wanted an apple and my mind was just blown. I fell in love with this idea that you could communicate non-verbally”
As an organization, Signing Raiders used to be known as Silent Raiders, but underwent a name change following their return after the COVID-19 pandemic. Stanford said there’s a good reason for the switch.
“COVID hit (and) the president didn’t continue the organization because technically she graduated,” Stanford said. “When we came back and we wanted to start it back up, we made the decision to change the name because it was a deaf student who decided on Silent Raiders but as a hearing person, we know that deaf individuals are not actually silent. They make quite a bit of noise and it’s great.
Melissa Hays is the Program Director for ASL and Interpreting, and has been at Texas Tech since 1998. Hays also serves as an advisor for Signing Raiders, and during her time, she’s seen the organization undergo a name change, face extinction, and experience a recent resurgence through new leadership.
“I’ve been involved with Signing Raiders since the beginning,” Hays said. “COVID hit and the advisor at the time left. We would do some game nights or whatever on Zoom, but it’s not the best way to communicate in ASL. But this is a great group. We’ve done lots of things over the years, we’ve been doing a Trunk-or-Treat event, and that’s a big event we do. The officers sign at the Carol of the Lights, we do a lot of panel discussions. We do a lot of events.”
Hays adds that learning ASL is important for all students because it makes them more aware of deaf culture and provides a broader world view.
“So many people will run into ASL at some point,” Hays said. “I would suggest anybody to learn another language. Even if you never become proficient, it helps you be aware of other cultures. Years ago, I had a student that was not a super strong student, she was okay. She contacted me a few years later, she was fostering children, and she got a deaf kid. It is something we can use and deaf people appreciate you trying.”
Amber Flemings, a fourth-year social work student from Arlington, serves as the current vice president of Signing Raiders. Flemings is ASL 3 and said it’s crucial for students to have a community uplifting them.
“It’s been a little bit tough,” Flemings said. “You need support. I lived on Izzy’s couch for like three or four months last semester just trying to relearn the basics. I didn’t use it, so I lost it. That was another reason I wanted to be an officer so that people can see that there is somebody out there that isn’t 100 percent perfect, but I’m trying.”
Flemings said getting to interact with the local deaf community was nerve wracking at first, but that they’re there to help students and their ASL comprehension.
“I’m still not the best at going to coffee chats because I’m still nervous,” Flemings said. “Just know that you’re not the only one. I’ve even seen them get to the point where they’ll pull out paper and write with you. You’ll write what you want to say and they’ll sign it back to you.”
Sophia Limas is a fourth-year accounting student from East Bernard, and currently serves as the treasurer for Signing Raiders. Limas said as an ASL student, it’s important for her to consider the language from a deaf person’s point of view.
“It’s their language, not mine,” Limas said. “I need to know how to do it from their perspective and how they want me as a hearing person to represent them. I don’t want to do them a disservice by misrepresenting them.”
Limas said she wanted to learn ASL to communicate with deaf people from her hometown.
“I lived in a really small farming community and I only knew two deaf people,” Limas said. “They have cochlear implants, and now they’re using their hearing aids less and less and relying more on sign language. I just kind of was like, these are my friends and I want to be able to communicate with them. I just fell in love with the community, the culture is so beautiful.”