FAQ: What will you be researching?


When I tell people I'll be doing research in Spain, "Why?", is usually the first question I am asked.

For those of you who don't have much time to read the full story, here is the abridged version: I am researching the impact of [Spanish] Deaf Education on d/Deaf students' self-identity, language attitude, and relationship with the local Deaf and hearing communities. This all stemmed from an interest in discovering more about the learning disparity between d/Deaf and hearing children, during my sophomore year of undergrad.

For those of you who have a few spare minutes, get comfortable, take a sip of your coffee, and enjoy!

This journey began the fall of my sophomore year. I learned about the Office of Undergraduate Research's opportunity to perform a 2 1/2 week-long field study in London. The unofficial reason for deciding to apply was because I REALLY wanted to go to London. The project idea came after. Shh!

I sat down with my ASL 3 instructor, MJ, and started with my idea "I want to address the learning gap between Deaf and hearing students." I signed through a mixture of actual ASL, signed-English, and fingerspelling (aka broken-ASL), as my ASL skills were still in the early stages.

MJ was (and still is) incredibly passionate about helping me. She informed me of all the different teaching methods used in d/Deaf schools and gave me an idea of the educational climate here in the U.S. She also connected me to my current research mentor of 2 years, Dr. Claude Mauk. (if either of you are reading this, please know that I am forever grateful for all of your efforts!!) Inspired, I cranked out my first formal research proposal. Then I waited. In December, I received the email that I had won the scholarship and that I would begin my proposed project in January! Awesome! Then, I had to figure out how I was to realistically accomplish my lofty goals described in the proposal.

I began my spring semester with this basic 'formula' in mind: "The UK is older. Older = wiser. Wiser = better. The US is younger. Therefore, the US can learn from the UK because British Sign Language (BSL) is older!(?)" In hindsight, this was not the most scientific theory, however, for my first independent research project it worked well. I began to reach out to some Deaf clubs and schools in London using buzzwords like "University of Pittsburgh!", "Student!", "research!", "scholarship!". And eventually.... no one replied. 

I was not deterred.

The spring semester flew by with no word from the UK until I was sitting in my room in Camden, London in early May. I emailed all my desired contacts again with a "Hi! I'm here now!! Remember me? That random American student?? Let's chit-chat.". Of course, I worded the emails using my academic and ~scholarly~ language. I gave them a day to respond as I ran around London, excited as ever to be in the new city. The next morning, I figured out how to use my Oyster card, the pass to London's "tube", and transported myself to the closest site: Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children. I walked up to the desk and informed the gentleman that I had tried to contact the school previously and was in town on a research ~scholarship~ investigating Deaf education in the UK. The man, bless him, was interested and quickly booked an appointment an administrator. Within 24 hours, I sat down with the assistant headteacher of the school.

I should note here that American Sign Language (ASL) and BSL are NOT the same language. There is no official universal sign language! The beauty of sign is that it is, just like every other language, developed and influenced by location, culture, and history. Now, let us continue with the story!

We were able to communicate due to the fact that the headteacher's partner was American! Lucky for me, he was able to sign almost fluently in ASL (with only a few BSL signs thrown into the mix). He shared with me how the Frank Barnes school was struggling in a way similar to American schools: lack of community/municipal support. I was shocked. But the UK is so OLD and established?!? I learned that the oldest Deaf school in the UK had recently closed its doors, sending hundreds of students into mainstream schools. (I'll discuss in another post why I believe that mainstream schools are not the best for d/Deaf students based on my research)

During my trip, I heard this reoccurring theme of lack of support from both municipalities and community members. The experience was incredibly eye-opening. I shifted from wanting to compare and contrast schools, to realizing that what I really needed was a collaborative study to produce something that would ally with/support Deaf institutions.

Fast forward: I received a Community Based Research (CBR) Fellowship from Pitt's Honors College, through which I was able to work with the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in surveying their students on the topics mentioned in my descriptive (i.e. lengthy) research title, "The Impact of Deaf Education on Students' Self-identity, Language Attitude, and Relationship with the Local Deaf and Hearing Communities". After my year as a CBR Fellow, I received another field studies grant to research in NYC. I was able to meet with professors at Columbia and reached out to various schools for the Deaf in NY. I also attended my first ever, ASL Slam (ASL-based slam poetry) event! What a time...

Anyway, that is what I'm researching in Spain and why I'm researching it! I don't really want to wrap up this post as I know I will revisit it often in the future... but I am happy that you all know a little more about my 'Why'.

Thank you for reading :)