Flagler’s first masters program to entwine two cultures


By MJ Jeremiah | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Katherine Taylor, a 21-year-old member of the Deaf community and student at Flagler College, was born able to hear, but became fully deaf by the age of three. With no memories of hearing while growing up in Delaware., she is left with only the haunting memories of being raised in a predominantly hearing community. Throughout her childhood she faced many challenges due to a lack of awareness and understanding. Taylor grew up in a less-than-pleasant environment due to the treatment of the Deaf community within her hometown.

After moving to St. Augustine to attend Flagler College, she was overwhelmingly surprised to find an ever-growing, functioning and accepted Deaf community. People around town sign to her, even if it’s just saying “thank you.” She explained that there is a general thirst to learn American Sign Language from the hearing community in St. Augustine. Ever since her move, Taylor has been asked by countless amounts of people to teach them Sign Language.

“Personally, coming from no Deaf community or acceptance, Florida and St. Augustine have strong positive awareness of the Deaf Community,” Katherine signed.

Margaret Finnegan, the Deaf Education coordinator here at Flagler College, said, “They’ve broken apart into the community. When I started teaching here, and even five, 10 years ago I could say (to my students) that you need to go to Deaf club on Friday night and there would be 40 Deaf people there … Now they go to Deaf club and there’s maybe 10 people there because five went to the football game and four are down at Chili’s having margaritas. They’re more integrated into the community.”

Part of that integration is at heart of Flagler College’s plan for offering a master’s program in Deaf Education — the first for the school. It will be less about adding another layer of academia to its credit, and more about the combining of two separate communities. The pending approval will further spread awareness of the Deaf community to all of Flagler’s students. Set to debut in the fall of 2016, the program has already passed through the college and is waiting for official accreditation. As the relationship between Flagler College and St. Augustine’s Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind grows, it will further intertwine the hearing and Deaf communities.

“The strength of our program that draws students is the opportunity to work directly in a classroom environment with Deaf students,” said Finnegan.

With the entwining of the two communities comes growing pains. In order to further communicate with the hearing community, members of the Deaf community often sign in a very literal English translation of American Sign Language. This allows hearing students who are learning ASL to better understand them, but it also acts as a crutch.

Because people feel the need to simplify their language for those in the hearing community, plenty of students never learn the pure ASL language. Many members of the Deaf community, including Taylor, fear the loss of true ASL.

The program itself will be comprised of two different tracks: One geared toward graduating Flagler students who would like to earn their Masters, and the other a track geared toward teachers from the field who are looking to further educate themselves in American Sign Language and the Deaf community. The two programs will primarily be online and will have a residency requirement due to the large involvement with the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB.) Both programs will participate in practicums and internships at FSDB, immersing them within the pure language and culture of the community.

“FSDB is the largest school for the Deaf in the country. It employs Deaf people,” Finnegan said. “It brings lots of families with Deaf children here. So there’s always been a very high visibility of Deafness in the town. That continues to be true. However the visibility is more integrated now. In the old days for example, Deaf people didn’t have the same accessibility that they have now. Computers did not exist. TV wasn’t captioned. Now with all the accessibility you see them as more a part of the overall community.”

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