Underneath the Dining Commons in the Student Development Center (SDC), sits the offices of a unique department at RIT. In an eclectically cluttered workspace, the overtly friendly staff of the Student Life Team (SLT) aim to provide an important support role in the structure of NTID.
The SLT operates as a sort of “liaison” between the NTID community and the resources at RIT, said Karey Pine, SLT director. Many students come to the SLT seeking advice on a wide range of topics, said Pine, “We provide ... an initial support for lots of different issues, like roommate things, ‘I’m having a problem with my teacher,’ and ‘I don’t know where to go for help with my English paper’ ... My staff’s job is to be well trained on how to connect students to the right resource.”
The SLT staff can be viewed as an example for the rest of NTID, said Pine. Whereas most departments at NTID are made up of primarily hearing staff, the SLT is the opposite. Pine, the only hearing member of the department, feels “that we try to minimize the audistic environment here and offer a role model for how to do that.”
While the SLT has become an important part of NTID, over the past 30 years, its future hasn’t always been assured. Formed in the 1970s, the SLT was once part of a much larger NTID support department known as the Department of Human Development (DHD). With services such as substance abuse support and an athletic program, the DHD specifically provided support to deaf students. However, said Pine, many of those services were redundant.
“Through a reorganization of budget allocations in the early ’90s, NTID decided that it was in the best interest of service to students that they move many services to link with their RIT student affairs counterparts,” noted Pine. However, when administrators were considering merging the SLT with RIT’s Campus Life, students spoke out. “Students came back to NTID with some petitions, and said, ‘No, this is the one place that should stay in NTID.’ ”
“We don’t replace Campus Life; we enhance Campus Life,” said Pine. “My hope is that the SLT creates a space that is a home, a safe space, for our deaf and hard of hearing students to … connect to the larger institute of resources.”
Part of creating that “safe space” involves providing a physical location for the Deaf community to use. When Pine was hired to direct the team in 1998, her first task was to draft an initial proposal for such a location. With the help of student leaders, Pine submitted her one page proposal. It was well received, but the institute was slow to act, said Pine.
Eventually, after creating a more detailed proposal with the students and finding a donor to fund the project, the SDC was born. “Leading students were asked for feedback on everything from the fabrics, to the lighting, to the flooring,” said Pine. “Our job, as an office, was to make sure that voice was included.”
The building, donated by Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc., was finished in the fall of 2006. Many of the student suggestions — such as communication access, club space, and club offices — were incorporated into the building. While construction has been complete for a few years, the process of making the SDC a home is ongoing.
“I am presently working with ... students who serve on the Cassie Haynes Student Advisory Board, which focuses solely on the design, infrastructure and processes of the building so that present and future generations of students can maintain a sense of home here,” said Erin Esposito, assistant director of the SLT and RIT graduate.
As part of its function as a support center, the SLT offers a number of programs designed around community building. Programs, like those offered by Campus Life, range from “late night social activities” to a series of lectures by well-known deaf speakers.
“I learned about Deaf culture, especially because I grew up ‘oral mainstreamed’ in school and was raised in a hearing family,” remembered Esposito about her experience working at the SLT as a student. Esposito also cited the SLT for developing many of her professional skills, such as “public speaking, networking, programming, advertising and much, much more.”
Along with professional staff, the SLT employs a number of Community Student Advocates (CSA). These trained student leaders work to bridge the gap between students and the SLT. “My responsibility is reach out to students,” added Kaniel McDonald, a CSA and third year Accounting major. “They feel comfortable listening to my explanations because we are their peers.”
Additionally, the team also acts as an advisor to many of the Deaf community organizations. Beyond providing club meeting space, each professional staff member is an advisor for at least one Deaf club. From these clubs, the SLT draws in new students.
“I got involved with the SLT through my club, the Asian Deaf Club,” said Dae-Kun Kim, a fifth year Information Technology student and CSA, “When I was a club officer, I needed to use SLT’s services ... Through that, I got involved ... I believe I am contributing by being an established role model.”
The role of SLT in the future will, for the most part, remain the same. However, as NTID is currently involved in updating their strategic vision, the task of SLT may be changing. In the meantime, regardless of your hearing status, the SLT operates to provide support for the NTID community. Even if you aren’t an NTID student, reminded Pine, SLT is still an available resource for information on the Deaf community.