What began as a focus on Deaf advocacy, culture, and language in the 1st semester Deaf Studies Course at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, has become a school-wide effort to further explore and understand histories, cultures, struggles, and triumphs of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
Led by Wisconsin School for the Deaf teacher, Karla Gunn (Jr. National Association of the Deaf Advisor and American Sign Language Specialist), Wisconsin School for the Deaf teachers; Susan Dupor (art teacher & Deaf artist); Shannon Simon (Student Body Government advisor); and Becky Epple, have worked tirelessly to virtually bring guest speakers from all over the world to their Deaf Studies course. Epple emphasized, “WSD has done an amazing job of including multiple events focused on culture and language especially BIPOC long before the term was coined. This year was exceptional.” Students in the Deaf Studies course learned alongside guest speakers from Mexico, Kenya, India, Cameroon, and more.
In preparation for the Deaf Studies guest speakers, students researched guests and topics and created “burning questions” for speakers. Throughout their experiences, students learned about challenges, perseverance, grit, advocacy, barriers, civil rights laws, disability laws, technology, education in various countries and cultures. “Students were completely amazed with the cultural and linguistic impact of each presenter,” Epple said. “They were able to also view native signers in half a dozen other languages. So many incredible details and facts were shared from a Deaf perspective.” The high school students in the Deaf Studies course greatly enjoyed and benefited from this experience. They brought the concept to their SBC and Junior (Jr.) National Association of the Deaf advisors, which led to the Friday BIPOC events.
Throughout the process, and because of student interest, students were encouraged to host a series of BIPOC events over the course of six Fridays this school year. The virtual events were held during "Friday House Hours" with groupings by departments in Pre-K to grade 12 and staff. The students in student body government and Jr. National Association of the Deaf worked with their advisors to contact guest speakers and create the events which included culture, history, discrimination, systemic racism, awareness of Deaf BIPOC organizations, dance, Storysigning, and sign language from various groups. Throughout March and April, a half dozen WSD students prepared and presented information on the diverse cultures among Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and Muslim communities. Guest speakers included:
- Sean Norman, NAD office manager
- Roberto Cabrera, Director of Inclusivity, Council de Manos
- Melody Stein Tsai, business owner (fashion design)
- Danny Lucero, community member
- Salim Eslim, community member
Nevaeh Benning, a WSD senior, reflected on the Friday House Hour presentations, “We believe it’s important to spread awareness of people of color to all students and staff in order to point out the history, discrimination, systemic racism, and celebrations... in each culture and community. Additionally, we encourage others to understand, and respect various cultures.”