Perceptions of Diverse Educators regarding Ethnic-Minority Deaf College Students, Role Models, and Diversity

Article excerpt

IN A QUALITATIVE STUDY, the researchers documented the perceptions of deaf and hearing ethnically diverse university faculty and staff regarding issues related to the education of ethnic-minority deaf college students. These experienced educators commented on the importance of ethnic-minority role models for deaf college students, the academic preparedness of ethnic-minority deaf students, these students' level of comfort on campus, and the success of institutional efforts to increase awareness regarding ethnic diversity. The insightful reflections of these diverse educators can be informative in improving the educational experience of ethnic-minority deaf students.

In deaf education, there is an increasing awareness that cultural and language diversity within the Deaf community may influence the educational process (Christensen & Delgado, 1993; Parasnis, 1997). The primary focus of those involved in studying Deaf culture has been on establishing that there exist distinct Deaf and hearing worlds (Lane, Hoffmeister, & Bahan, 1996; Parasnis, 1996). However, it is becoming evident that within each of these worlds, not everyone has equal social status or equal access to information. The percentage of ethnic-minority deaf children has continued to increase (Holden-Pitt & Diaz, 1998), but it has been found that ethnicminority deaf children as a group do not fare well in existing educational programs, and in fact are more often labeled as learning disabled than nonHispanic White children (Cohen, Fischgrund, & Redding, 1990; Samar, Parasnis, & Berent, 1998). Hence, the negative effect of ethnic-minority status on the retention and success of deaf students, and how to counteract it, is a growing concern among those involved in deaf education.

One often-mentioned strategy to increase the retention and success of ethnic-minority deaf students is to increase the number of ethnic-minority educators so that all students can benefit from having diverse positive role models to emulate. Available data clearly suggest a serious paucity of such role models. In their survey of 6,043 professionals in 349 deaf education programs in the United States, Andrews and Jordan (1993) found that only 10.4% of professionals in deaf education were people of color. Of these, only 11.7% were deaf. Nevertheless, it has not been documented in the research literature whether the availability of ethnic-minority role models is perceived by educators to be an important positive influence on the retention and success of ethnicminority deaf students.

Another strategy followed by many colleges and universities to increase the retention and success of ethnic-minority students is to address issues related to diversity in curricular and cocurricular activities. In addition to explicit discussion of ethnic diversity and race, programs to celebrate students' multicultural backgrounds are often offered on campuses. Whether such efforts are perceived by educators as effective in positively influencing the retention and success of ethnic-minority deaf students is not documented in the research literature.

Educators and educational planners need explicit and systematically collected information from experienced educators on which to base educational and institutional policies for incorporating diversity into educational and staffing programs. The purpose of the present study was to document the perceptions of professionals in deaf education regarding the importance of role models for deaf ethnic-minority students and the effectiveness of efforts by an educational institution to promote awareness of ethnic diversity among members of the campus community. A unique feature of the present study was the inclusion of male and female deaf participants from a variety of ethnic-minority backgrounds who were serving deaf college students.

Method

Participants

The study participants were faculty or staff at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), which includes the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) as one of its colleges. …