Rachel Mazique

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.

Rachel Mazique, Miss Deaf America ambassador for the National Association of the Deaf, discusses the difficulties of being the only deaf teacher and graduate student in the English Department at UT, Mazique shed light on the history of deaf communication and the communication barriers that are present the University.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

Assistant English instructor Rachel Mazique is the only deaf member in the English department and she utilizes two interpreters who voice for her during her class. As Miss Deaf America, she said she uses her title to raise awareness about the deaf community and their unlimited capabilities.

Miss Deaf America, ambassador for the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), discussed her experiences with the organization, deaf culture and deaf advocacy during a coffee style chat Tuesday in the Student Services Building.

Services for Students with Disabilities at the University of Texas hosted Mazique as the first in a series of events to acknowledge of Disability Awareness Month.

The goal is to expose people to NAD and explain how the organization works to promote advocacy for the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people in the U.S., Mazique said.

“Ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents, so there is often that lack of exposure to someone the same as themselves,” said coordinator of the event, Lauren M.B. Kinast, who is herself hard-of-hearing. “So as someone being in this capacity, [Mazique] can really raise awareness of being a role model in the community.”

Mazique is an example of breaking the glass ceiling of incorporating a person with a disability into a teaching role at the university level, Kinast said.

“Often times, we’re under the notion that [the deaf and hard-of-hearing] have to teach at a university for the deaf, and why should we be limited to that?” Kinast asked. “Why not teach at any university with the understanding that we’d have to have interpreters?”

Until recently, University funding was not provided to faculty and staff for interpreter services and was left up to the individual departments to provide, said Linda Millstone, associate vice president for the Institutional Equity.

As the Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for UT, Millstone said she looks at disability issues as a whole, and argued that faculty and staff are employees of UT and should receive centralized funding and the individual departments shouldn’t have to pay for interpreter services.

“This happened during the time when the University was looking at finances and central allocations underscore the University’s commitment to persons with disabilities,” Millstone said.

Now that Mazique is in a teaching position, Kinast hopes that it will open the door for other departments to consider bringing on other deaf and hard-of-hearing faculty.

“[Raising awareness] makes for a better human interaction,” Mazique said. “It helps to make people realize that being deaf is not just a lack of something, but it’s a cultural thing with a language, history, tradition, heritage. It’s a way of being.”

Printed on October 5, 2011 as: Deaf instructor raises awareness