Jared Evans on embracing “Solitaires”

Posted on 7 January 2007. Filed under: Audism |

Jared Evans has just written a thoughtful blog post on the importance of welcoming “Solitaires” into the deaf community.

If you don’t know what the word “Solitaire” means in relation to deaf people, then you haven’t read one of the several recent blog posts discussing Gina Olivia’s newest book, Alone in the Mainstream. I haven’t had a chance to read her book. But as I understand it, she uses the word “solitaires” to refer to deaf students who, like herself when she was a child, are thrown into mainstreamed settings at school. Many of these students do succeed at school, at least academically, and maybe in athletics or certain other extracurricular activities. Some, in fact, may be considered “success stories.” But many were cut off socially. They may grow up with a sense of not really “belonging” in the hearing world. (If you’ve read her book, then please correct me if I’ve made any mistakes here.)

Unfortunately, many deaf people who grow up in mainstream settings find that they are rejected by some members of the Deaf community when they try to join. I, myself, grew up as a “solitaire.” I was mainstreamed for part of the day in kindergarten, then full time from first grade through my first year of college at the University of California at Berkeley. During my year there, I began to feel more and more strongly that I needed to be immersed full time in the Deaf community, at least for a time, in order to understand myself as a culturally Deaf person and (so was my dream) to achieve the feeling, at last, that I “belonged.”

But when I shared my aspirations with a couple of other deaf students who, like me, were enrolled at UC/Berkeley (there were maybe 10 of us in all that year, though I only saw maybe two or three of them on even an occasional basis), I was very strongly warned that I “shouldn’t go to Gallaudet.” Why? Because–or so I was told–the Deaf students there would never, never accept me. They would only accept pure ASL users from Deaf families and Deaf schools — not mainstreamed kids like me who grew up with hearing parents and signed English and who had only a rudimetnary grasp of real ASL grammar and syntax. They told me that I would be accepted only if I was prepared to completely cut myself off from all hearing people, including my own family, and commit myself to using ASL and nothing else. In other words, I would be accepted only if transformed myself and the very centrality of my identity. An honest self-exploration of my identity was not allowed: only one identity was the “right” identity–one size fits all, or else you don’t belong.

Their warnings made me feel very threatened by Gallaudet. Fortunately, I did go to Gallaudet in the end. And I’m glad I did. I eventually made friends among people who weren’t “pure ASL/deaf family/deaf school Deaf” but who, nevertheless, signed fluently and were accpeting of deaf people from a wide range of communication, familial, and schooling backgrounds.

But I’m also glad that I was warned the way I was because those strongly-worded warnings helped temper my inflated expectations and helped prepare me for the reception I would get from “Deaf of Deaf from Deaf schools” at Gallaudet. It hurts enough to feel rejected in the so-called “hearing world.” It hurts even more when rejection also comes from the so-called “Deaf world”–the one place where deaf people from diverse backgrounds should be embraced and welcomed.

Blog posts like the one from Jared Evans are, I think, a positive contribution to the on-going dialogue about how we can make the deaf community generally–including, I hope, on Gallaudet campus itself–more welcoming for Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind people of all communication and schooling backgrounds. To truly address audism–at Gallaudet and anywhere else–we need to explore all its aspects, including “Deaf on deaf and hard of hearing” audism. (And also “deaf on Deaf” and “hard of hearing on Deaf” audism.)

[Want to submit your own essay for publication at Reunify Gally? It should be related in some way to reunifying or healing the Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests. If interested, review my Guidelines for Guest Bloggers and submit your essay to ashettle (at) patriot.net]

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