Lauren Kinast

Deaf instructor and UT doctoral student Rachel Mazique teaches deaf literature at the University. Mazique plans to become an English professor.

Correction: This caption has been updated since its original posting. Because of an editing error, the original caption misspelled the student's name. It is spelled Rachel Mazique.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

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.

Lisa Guerra and Rogelio Fernandez converse using sign language at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Meet-and-Greet event. 

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

Of the 54 Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) students currently attending UT, only a few have ever had the chance to interact with each other — but DHH students and Services for Students with Disabilities are working to change that. 

Dozens of DHH students met for the first time at an informal meet-and-greet dinner Tuesday.

Lauren Kinast, associate director for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, said she noticed the lack of unification among DHH students shortly after her arrival on campus.

“I often have students asking, ‘How many DHH students are there here at UT?’ and ‘Where do I find them? How do I meet them?’ [and] this is one way we hope to bring them together,” Kinast said. 

Plan II senior Duggan Baker planned the event in conjunction with David Simmons, a linguistics lecturer who teaches sign language. Baker said he wanted to connect with a larger community.

“I became deaf right when I was born,” Baker said. “I grew up going to school with hearing students, but when I came to college I had a little trouble adjusting. I was quiet, and I didn’t want to have to explain my deafness to everyone.” 

DHH students like Baker have formed small groups like SignHorns, a Facebook page designed to connect students to the deaf community on campus and in Austin. Students can also participate in College Bowl — an academic competition hosted by the National Association of the Deaf. 

History senior Lisa Guerra, a College Bowl contestant, said her experience with the competition opened up more opportunities for her to socialize and make friends on campus.

“It was like a culture shock for me,” Guerra said. “I had never seen so many deaf people all in one place, signing and communicating.” 

Still, Simmons said many students have yet to get involved or find a sense of community.

“DHH students still feel very isolated and invisible on campus,” Simmons said. “We are looking to improve the quality of life for them.”

At the meet-and-greet dinner, linguistics department Chair Richard Meier said the department is working on several new initiatives related to DHH students, including adding an American Sign Language minor. 

Baker said he hopes to hold more informal events in the future and to eventually unite all DHH students on campus.

Members of UT’s first bowl team showcased their Texas spirit atop a life-size longhorn. The students will compete in the National Association of the Deaf’s College Bowl, which offers deaf students the opportunity to interact with other students of the deaf community and compete in trivia events. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Mazique)

Students walking the 40 Acres are often accustomed to the ring of morning alarm clocks, the chimes of the tower and the trumpeted tune of “Texas Fight.”

However, the 62 students who make up UT’s relatively small population of deaf and hard of hearing students can’t hear those sounds.

For the first time in UT‘s history, five students will participate in the National Association of the Deaf’s College Bowl in Louisville, Ky. this July.

Lauren Kinast, assistant director for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services in the department of Services for Students with Disabilities, said the academic bowl began in 1988 and has traditionally been a competition between its three legacy universities, top-tier schools for the deaf including Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., California State University-Northridge and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Students from all universities competing in the bowl will spend the upcoming months learning trivia they will be quizzed on during the competition.

This year marks the first year that the bowl has opened the competition to non-legacy universities, and Kinast, who will serve as one of UT’s coaches, said she submitted a proposal to participate and immediately began looking for students interested in competing. Bowl competitors are required to be undergraduates in good standing with the University and will attend opening ceremonies as well as workshops and trainings, preliminary college bowl competitions, a Miss Deaf America Pageant and a steamboat dinner benefit event at the bowl, Kinast said in an email.

Kinast, who is deaf, said coming to a large university such as UT can be overwhelming for a deaf student.

“The best way to get a sense of what the environment feels like for a deaf student is to picture yourself as a person who doesn’t know sign language in an environment where everyone signs,” she said.

“Now, think of being in this environment every day. It can be tiresome and frustrations can kick in easily.” Deaf students face day-to-day challenges that students without hearing impairments aren’t often aware of, Kinast said.

“As a deaf person, I can’t just walk into the financial aid office and have a lengthy conversation with a counselor about my financial support,” she said.

Kinast said UT has made significant strides in making things accessible for deaf students, such as emergency text messages and closed captioning on the Jumbotron at Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium, but day-to-day challenges still arise in the classroom setting.

“One of the challenges deaf students face is when instructors show videos in the classroom that aren’t captioned,” she said. “The assumption is because there are sign language interpreters, they can interpret the video, but this is not effective. Having to look at the interpreters then look at the video is very awkward and uncomfortable.”

Kinast said she is particularly excited for the bowl because of the awareness it will bring to the deaf and hard of hearing community at UT.

“The bowl will put UT on the map as a university with deaf and hard of hearing students,” she said. “We hope this will increase our visibility to prospective students from all over the U.S. to consider UT an option for their post-high school studies.”

Deaf students at UT enroll in the same curriculum for their chosen major as hearing students do, said Stephani Wolfe, Division of Diversity and Community Engagement executive director.

Arrangements are made to ensure interpreters or captioning options are available for the students, she said.

Duggan Baker, a bowl team member and Plan II sophomore, said he is participating to meet other deaf students like himself.

“It is wonderful to hang out with these guys because we all seem to have an understanding of what the other has been through in order to get to where we are now,” he said in an email. “They provide something my hearing friends do not. They understand what it is like to be deaf.”

Baker said the team is training steadily to prepare for the bowl, but said he’ll be thankful for the experience regardless of how the team fares against other schools in Kentucky.

“We’re working hard to study trivia and improve our knowledge base so that we can do our best to win,” he said. “Ultimately it will not matter if we win or lose. I will be happy with the friendships I have made and the things I have learned. Although, it would be nice to win.”

History sophomore Lisa Guerra is also participating in the bowl and said she is looking forward to the competition after months of trivia practice with the team.

“It is an honor because we, as a team, will be representing one of the largest public universities in America,” she said in an email. “I wanted to participate because this is a great opportunity to expose myself in a cultural aspect.”

Kalie Kubes, a bowl team member and human development and family sciences sophomore, said she feels many students aren’t aware of the deaf community at UT.

“I just think that we’re such a small community that if you don’t see us walking around or signing or in class with an interpreter, people don’t know,” she said in an email. “However, I’ve had wonderful professors who have been more than willing to help.”

Despite the day-to-day challenges she faces as a result of her hearing impairment, Kubes said UT has been a welcoming community.

“I’m actually enjoying being a deaf student in a mainstream school,” she said. “I love how curious people are and how many students actually want to learn to sign. It’s really inspiring and it makes me feel more comfortable here among thousands of people who may have never even met a deaf person.”

Printed on Friday, April 6, 2012 as: College Bowl gives deaf students chance to shine