On a dark November evening in a stage room at the back of the Gordon B. Hinckley Building, Davin Glenn, a junior studying public health, teaches an American Sign Language workshop to an eager group of students. These ASL workshops are Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Hinckley 286.
The young man stands in a plaid button-up with khakis at the front of the well-lit room in front of a whiteboard. His dark hair is combed neatly, and his bright smile gives him away as the son of a dentist.
Glenn confidently speaks and signs, bringing his hands up to his face, then down across his shoulders and in front of his chest. A series of meaningful gestures that teach a variety of different phrases and questions.
The 22-year-old Oregon-native knows how to command a room. His volume, articulation, emotive expressions and precise signing captivate each workshop attendee as they sign with him, pausing only to ask more questions.
For a quiet space, the excitement feels tangible. It would be difficult to guess the ever-engaging Glenn is hard of hearing himself, were it not for his bright blue hearing aids.
However, Glenn hasn’t always been this assertive and self-assured. He described his younger self as withdrawn and not wanting to put himself out there.
His journey has been two decades in the making.
Loss of hearing
Davin Glenn was born two months premature with many complications.
“My gastrointestinal system was totally messed up,” Glenn explained.
This led to a series of surgeries and IV therapy, which led to a life-threatening heart infection. His doctors then gave him a potent antibiotic to help him recover. The side effect?
“They weren’t sure if I was going to be deaf, but they did warn my parents, ‘Hey, your son could lose some hearing, so be prepared for that.’”
As expected, Glenn did lose some of his hearing. Signs began to show as a toddler when he wouldn’t respond to questions or his name and he would cry louder than many toddlers and babies.
His parents remained optimistic.
“Growing up they always told me ‘Yeah you’re different, but don’t make that define who you are. You are you and that’s what’s most important.’ It was still a challenge though … It actually set back a lot of different social processes in my life.”
Glenn fell behind in school and wasn’t academically equal with his peers until middle school. He couldn’t read very well, had trouble with speech and struggled with a slightly lower intellectual comprehension in general.
Beyond trouble with classes, his peers presented an added trial.
“I had less friends than most,” Glenn said. “Thankfully I still had friends, but not a lot. Usually my friends were people that my mom would bring over or people from the Church.”
This lasted until he was in middle school, but he explained that for him was learning to advocate for himself.
He learned to ask questions, to be transparent with his disability and use tools to make his learning easier.
“But regardless, it was new things being heaped on me,” Glenn said. “The other kids aren’t doing this, I don’t want to look different.”
Glenn explained this attitude is what kept him from learning ASL at first. He felt alienated growing up, and learning to sign would be another thing that separated him from his peers.
“I started learning ASL when I got invited by a woman in my stake,” Glenn said with a smile. “I had started to gain some esteem by this point. I had lots of friends, people considered me their equal, so this was a turning point for me that was like ‘OK, got my foot down.’”
She invited Glenn to a conference at the Oregon School of the Deaf. He was unsure but curious and excited.
“I just remember walking in the front doors and everyone’s signing. I was overwhelmed, like ‘Oh no, what have I got myself into?’”
At the time, he didn’t know much ASL. There were workshops and team–building exercises that helped Glenn to learn. When he returned home, he was excited to share with his family, but they didn’t know ASL. As a result, he struggled with fluency.
Still, he persisted and began to learn more ASL online through BYU Independent Study. Glenn continued to have trouble making the language “stick” in his mind.
Despite this, when he was putting in his mission papers he felt a strong call to an ASL mission.
“Basically I was screaming, ‘Please send me ASL’”
Mission and deaf culture
Just as he’d anticipated, Glenn was called to speak American Sign Language in the Arizona Mesa Mission. During his time there, he spent two years in the same ASL branch.
This was one of the first times he found himself surrounded by deaf people all the time. He felt impressed to go without hearing aids for the first six months of his mission in order to be accepted.
“They could instantly see I signed like a hearing person that’s only known ASL for the six weeks I was at the MTC,” Glenn said. “Instantly they’re like ‘Mm, yeah, doesn’t know it.’”
He explained how prevalent deaf pride is — being proud of one’s deafness and sometimes, a family history of deafness. In turn, Glenn would forego his own hearing aids to better assimilate to deaf culture.
“I’m willing to sacrifice the English language and totally rely on ASL.”
Now, he identifies with both communities.
“If I’m with hearing people I say I’m hard of hearing, if I’m with deaf people I say I’m deaf,” Glenn said. “I feel accepted by both. I have a foot in both worlds.”
During his time on his mission, he grew a deep love for both American Sign Language and people who are deaf.
“I just love how tight-knit and caring they are,” Glenn said. “Whenever you meet a deaf person they are always excited to see you, because they don’t get those opportunities as often as a hearing person would, and I’m passionate about the language. It’s such a useful language. It’s quiet, it’s private, it doesn’t intrude, multiple people can talk at once and everyone can understand each other. It’s unifying.”
Cultivating love isn’t the only thing Glenn’s mission did for him. His mission caused him to think critically about his hearing loss and come to terms with it in ways he hadn’t when he’d been immersed in hearing culture.
“I honestly think there’s only good things from it,” Glenn said. “When I was in school, I didn’t think about it. When I was on my mission though, I realized I don’t really see this as a disability. Even on a spiritual level, I was able to get an answer about why I was disabled.”
After more reflection and prayer, Glenn felt he was able to receive an answer.
“The Lord was able to tell me, ‘I made you hard of hearing to help other people who are deaf and hard of hearing,’” Glenn said. “So that was very touching and a very big deal for me. It was like wow, I have a purpose in life, that’s what I’m here for, that’s why I’m hard of hearing. I always used to ask myself ‘Why am I hard of hearing?’ I used to think I had this to be more humble, or I had this to be a better person — but really what it did was put me in others’ shoes.”
Despite the perspective gained on his mission, Glenn still struggles.
“On a very deep level, I have an innate fear that people are going to judge me based on my hearing aids alone, and that will skew their vision of who I am. I always feel like I have to prove ‘Hey, I’m just as normal as you guys are, deal with it.”
However, Glenn said he rarely feels judged for his deafness. Instead, he acknowledges his growth to this point.
“I’m definitely independent and proud of it and proud of who I am,” Glenn expressed.