A vibrant silence fills room 286 in the Gordon B. Hinkley building on Tuesday evenings. The numbers are small, but the deaf and hard of hearing student body at BYU-Idaho is a welcoming group, proving that ASL culture runs beyond just the number of deaf students.
Jadyn Townsend, a student studying graphic design, is a part of the deaf community here on campus. Townsend is teaching the ASL workshop this semester, alongside hearing students Katie Stubbs and Kendal Murray.
Townsend shared her experience growing up in the small vacation town of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, where there was little deaf representation.
“I always have been by myself ever since I was little,” Townsend said. “Back in my hometown, there are no deaf people, so I was mostly isolated all the time until I decided to go to BYU-I. I thought I would be an outcast again — just myself.”
Townsend said that even though she was used to the isolation, she has been able to find her place here in Rexburg.
“There’s not a lot of deaf students here, but I made friends with them and we hang out outside of school,” Townsend said. “It’s nice to have a community, even if it is small, and to see other hearing students wanting to be involved.”
While Townsend has found her niche, most of Idaho’s deaf culture resides in the city of Boise, said Heidi Smith, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Coordinator at BYU-I. She explained that on campus there are “about five deaf students and 15 to 20 hard of hearing students.”
That is where the ASL workshop, also known as “Talking Hands,” comes into play. With participants of different levels chatting and growing their skills, this kind of immersion gives real-world experiences, said Davin Glenn, a senior studying public health.
“The workshop is focused on voices off, and I think it works really well. I’m glad they’re doing it that way,” Glenn said.
Glenn said that even though he is hard of hearing, he does not speak for the deaf community, only his own experiences.
“Having no ASL classes, that makes a dead zone for opportunities,” Glenn explained. “I think ASL classes would really help because it would bring more awareness about the deaf community, even if it is really small. They would feel a lot more included with the student body.”
Despite a lack of ASL classes offered at BYU-I, Smith encourages students to come to the workshop and communicate with people who are different than them.
“It’s okay to try and communicate,” Smith said. “The deaf students are more than willing to teach them sign. They want to communicate and have friendships just like everyone else. Don’t be shy; if you’re interested in making friends with deaf students, just try.”