Winning Miss Deaf America in 2010 didn’t just mean a new title for graduate student Rachel Mazique — instead, the victory played a part in her career path. Mazique’s involvement in the deaf community put her on the path to teaching an undergraduate English course — using sign language — and dedicating her research to the culture of the deaf community.
Mazique, who grew up in a mixed deaf and hearing family in Arlington Heights, Ill., said she first came to the University as a student because of its resources, which eventually led her to focus on deaf literature as another form of ethnic literature.
“I have a transatlantic focus, as I’m working with both British and American Deaf Literature, and examining the literature in relation to American [and] British international law, social justice and bioethics,” Mazique said in an email.
Mazique said her interest in pageants began in 2006 when the Illinois Deaf Latino Association asked her to be in its inaugural pageant, which she won. In 2009, she competed to become the Miss Deaf Illinois Ambassador, and was sponsored to the National Association of the Deaf Conference in 2010.
“I was so happy to achieve this goal, so deciding to participate, not ‘just for fun,’ but to serve my community, worked best for me,” Mazique said.
Mazique became a graduate student at UT with the intent to research Chicano literature, but was eventually drawn to her current focus in deaf literature after taking courses in the English and communications department.
After she graduates from the University, Mazique said she plans to teach literature and writing courses as an English professor and continue writing about deaf literature.
“I would love to teach deaf and hard-of-hearing students on the collegiate level, so I definitely have my dream job locations at universities with large populations of such students,” Mazique said. “But I’m open to teaching anywhere the job takes me.”
Lauren Kinast, associate director for Services for Students with Disabilities, said Mazique’s ability to raise the profile of deaf community members on campus has been important to the University. Mazique said that, in the four years she has been teaching, she has worked with roughly 300 students, only two of whom were fluent in American Sign Language.
“She is a role model to our future instructors who are deaf and hoping to be given an opportunity to teach at the University,” Kinast said. “I hope to see more and more deaf instructors join UT’s pool of faculty members in various academic fields.”
Kinast said there are two deaf student organizations offered for the 53 deaf students registered through Services for Students with Disabilities: SignHorns and the Deaf/HH Longhorn College Bowl team. Mazique assists Kinast in coaching the University’s College Bowl team, which will go to the National Association of the Deaf Conference this summer to compete against other teams of deaf and hard-of-hearing students from universities across the country.
English professor Hannah Wojciehowski has worked closely with Mazique on her dissertation and studies at the University. Wojciehowski said she had not done work on deaf studies until she met Mazique.
“I think it’s a valuable experience for everyone,” Wojciehowski said. “I don’t think it needs to be thought of as some difficulty or impediment imposed on a group but rather an opportunity to think about communication in ways we usually don’t.”
Mazique’s dissertation will focus on a term coined by Richard Clark Eckert called “Deafnicity.” Wojciehowski said deaf studies is something that has been written very little about in the English and rhetoric departments.
“It’s a way of thinking about deaf identity or the identity of a deaf community,” Wojciehowski said. “I think it’s a valuable experience for everyone.”
Correction: This article has been corrected since its original posting. Because of a reporting error, the original article misquoted Rachel Mazique on one of her research focuses. Mazique's research looks at international law.
Clarification: Mazique teaches her English class using sign language. The topic of the course is not American sign language.