When I applied to RIT, I hadn’t heard very much about it — living eight hours away and all — so when it came time to choose where I was going to spend the next four years, I made a pretty uninformed decision. The majority of my freshman year was spent debating whether or not I had made the right choice and it wasn’t until last year that I became confident that RIT was the college for me. One of the main reasons for my assurance was the many types of diversity RIT has to offer, more specifically, being home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.
As a child growing up in a small town that boasted a large collection of antique shops and a pretty homogeneous mix of old people and middle-class families, I experienced hardly any communication barriers. During my first year at RIT, I learned to fingerspell my first name and once played intramural volleyball against a team with a deaf member. It wasn’t until I joined a sorority and met three members of my pledge class who were deaf that I had to learn to communicate efficiently with deaf students.
Our initial meeting on bid day was a little awkward but we exchanged phone numbers, planned a shopping date for the next day and communicated mostly by writing notes on our phones. Throughout the quarter, I learned how to sign things like “your shirt is cute” and “bitch, please” but more importantly, I learned that communicating with deaf people isn’t that hard. It was actually, surprisingly easy.
I couldn’t believe that I had spent my whole first year at RIT missing out on an entirely new culture that I had never before had the chance to experience. I was so worried that my inability to sign would prove too difficult to overcome or slow down the conversation to the point of exasperation. I had never thought to simply grab a small notebook and go bridge the gap to make some new friends. I’m so glad that I learned how easy it was to communicate, even without using sign language.
Any time I didn’t know how to sign something, I could write it down or fingerspell it and my sisters would be more than happy to teach me or help me out. One time, I went out to lunch with a deaf friend and even though I only knew about half of the signs she was using, I still understood her almost perfectly because of her expressiveness when storytelling. She was patient enough to help me communicate and I was willing to learn.
Almost two years after joining my sorority and meeting my deaf pledge sisters, I still suck at signing. But that hasn’t stopped us from having tons of fun together, making memories that I will never forget. I only wish that I had had the courage to walk up to someone with a sticky note that said “Hi, I’m Amber” and start a conversation, no matter how unconventional the method was.