Student group advocates for deaf community
September 22, 2014
by Rose Velazquez
Among the academic hustle and bustle, tireless athletic atmosphere and dynamic social scene, it seems like there’s a place for everyone on a campus. But the LSU Deaf and Hard of Hearing Club represents a community that often goes overlooked.
Co-president and communication disorders senior Lauren Ortego, who is not hearing impaired, said students are often hesitant about joining the organization because they are not deaf or hard of hearing.
Ortego said many students struggle with understanding what deaf culture is and how to act around deaf people. Many of these students are drawn to the organization because of the free, weekly American Sign Language classes.
“We do our best to advocate for the deaf culture, and just to spread awareness is basically our main goal because a lot of people don’t know a lot about the deaf culture, if even at all,” said Samantha Sherwood, co-president and communication studies senior.
Sherwood is one of the few students in the organization who has hearing loss. She said the club is a resource available to all University students — not just those with hearing impairments.
While the number of members with a hearing loss is limited, Ortego said it is growing.
“We just want people who have hearing losses or who are deaf to feel more at home,” Ortego said. “Not necessarily if you are deaf or hard of hearing, just a place for them to come and feel welcome whether they have any disability or no disability at all.”
Sherwood said the organization first appeared on campus under the leadership of Natalie Delgado, a former University student who wanted to create a club specifically for deaf students.
Delgado began studying at the University in 2009 but transferred to Gallaudet University, a deaf college in Washington, D.C., after two years to complete her bachelor’s degree. Sherwood said the University’s deaf community was small and, without Delgado’s leadership, the organization disappeared until psychology student Shaely Cheramie, now a University graduate, picked it up again.
In 2012, Cheramie distributed an email to disability students inviting them to join the organization. Because of her hearing loss, Sherwood was one of the recipients.
“I was like ‘What do I have to lose?’” Sherwood said. “So I just went ahead and went to the meeting, and it was five of us that showed up.”
“Basically, like, us five were the founder members of the club, and it just took off from there.”
Sherwood said the club now includes more than 100 members and continues to grow.
Delgado, now a Gallaudet University graduate, teaches the ASL classes every Thursday. Ortego said each class builds off of previous material, and they offer intermediate classes for students who are just beginning or are not as advanced.
When the organization reappeared, membership opened up, inviting students beyond the scope of the deaf community.
Sherwood and Ortego said many members are communication disorders and psychology students who find participating in the organization helpful to their majors.
Much of the organization’s volunteer work is done at the Louisiana School for the Deaf. The organization participates in fundraisers like the Dash for Deaf Kids, which raises money for the school, and attends homecoming games and plays.
Ortego said the club now also tutors students from Louisiana School for the Deaf.
“They like when college students go over there because they’re not exposed to that, and especially for the people who are in high school, they don’t know what to expect because that’s where they live, and they know nothing else,” Ortego said.
While the organization is dedicated to working with the deaf and hard of hearing community, Sherwood said they volunteer with various other disability groups.
Ortego said the club worked with the Special Olympics and donated baked goods to an event called Angling for Autism, a fishing tournament raising money and awareness for autism.