I was Secretary of the SGA from fall of 2016 to spring of 2017– basically, my entire sophomore year. During that time, I noticed that Agnes Scott had an accessibility issue, in that it wasn’t accessible at all for Deaf and hard of hearing students. I wanted to change that by introducing a software to classrooms that would live-caption lectures and allow an anonymous question-answer format that would allow students with anxiety and depression to participate in class anonymously.
I did a lot of research over the weeks, contacted a sales representative for a particular software, and put together a presentation for the Board of Trustees. But the president of the SGA never brought it to their attention, and the year ended before I could pursue it any further. I couldn’t help but feel like I had to do something, and if I couldn’t get something done at Agnes, at least I would write about it. That’s why I chose Deaf studies as the topic for my senior seminar this year, and why I’ve chosen a Deafness-related project for the Fulbright.
Advocating for Deaf rights and accessibility has been the passion of my life for a long time, and I owe it to myself to bring it to fruition, and help people along the way. I’m hoping that my senior seminar will bring the issue of Deaf accessibility back to the attention of the campus, and garner support from the Board of Trustees– but it’s still a long way off. I have to write the paper, first of all, and present a cohesive argument, supported by solid evidence and examples of ways that improving the campus would help Deaf students as well as the rest of the college. I hope I can make up for my past failure.
But this experience wasn’t just about deciding my senior seminar, choosing a career related to Deaf activism, or compensating for my inability to enact change. My time on SGA also gave me experience as a leader on campus. Granted, it wasn’t a great experience; I discovered I don’t actually enjoy it when people I don’t know just come up and ask me aggressive questions about campus-related problems I can’t answer. But being in the meetings, relating those questions to the governing body, advocating for the students who talked to me (albeit uninvited) was absolutely formative in my decision to become an advocate for the Deaf. Serving on the SGA gave me a real experience in problem-solving with real-life applications and consequences. Not to mention, I got to work with different leadership and teamwork styles, and I got to see how Agnes fits into global leadership (which is to say, there’s a reason we were voted the most innovative college in the U.S.).
I also fulfilled three of the Summit learning outcomes! I critically examined the relationship between dominant and marginalized cultures– aka, between the Deaf and the hearing. You can read the rough draft of my senior seminar about it right here! I also articulated and appraised problems and solutions from multiple perspectives, critically considering diverse sources of information as Secretary. I had to get the opinions of a lot of students to make sure I was doing the right thing. I asked students on campus how they thought they could benefit from that software, Deaf or otherwise, and they were overwhelmingly in support. But some people weren’t sure whether there would be a large enough Deaf audience to warrant a whole software installation for them. So I took different opinions into account to find a solution that would fit multiple perspectives: a software that not only catered to the Deaf, but would also help the mentally ill! And nobody could say we don’t have a large enough of a mentally ill audience on campus. Finally, I recognized, analyzed, and employed effective teamwork– well, it wasn’t quite as effective as I’d hoped. But I did enlist the help of the SGA president to get my points to the Board of Trustees… even if it didn’t go to plan. I still learned a lot, so that counts for something!
Overall, it was a difficult experience, and one that ultimately forced me to prioritize academics and mental health first. But I got a great professional headshot out of it, and I learned to apply Summit leadership values to my life, so it wasn’t a total loss.