Keith Delk, one of three children born deaf to hearing parents, feels as though he’s always had one foot in the deaf world and one foot in the hearing world. Growing up in Beach Park, Ill., he attended mainstreamed schools that provided access services to several deaf students.
Choosing RIT wasn’t a hard decision, and it was the only college he applied to and visited.
“I wanted to come to RIT for the blended culture here: deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing all together,” he said.
In high school, Delk was president of his Junior National Association of the Deaf chapter. It was a good experience, one that he wanted to duplicate at RIT.
Delk, 21, a new media design major, is a Student Government senator this year, focusing on cross-registered students: deaf and hard-of-hearing students supported by RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf but enrolled in bachelor’s or master’s programs in other colleges at RIT. There are 568 such students, and it’s a diverse group, with a number of communication preferences respected on campus.
“It’s very challenging. Some only use sign language, others are oral, some use cued speech, some only read lips, some are hard of hearing, some have cochlear implants and some have Usher Syndrome,” which can limit sight as well as hearing, he said.
Former RIT Student Government President Greg Pollock helped create the cross-registered delegate four years ago as another way students’ concerns could be addressed. It has been challenging to unify cross-registered students.
Delk will hear concerns students raise, but often he learns about them through a third party. “A lot of the students don’t speak up,” he said. He hopes they will feel more compelled to talk about issues if he has informal coffee chats or a biweekly newsletter to help encourage communication.
Delk meets regularly with faculty and staff regarding specific issues that arise. That includes meeting at least twice a month with NTID President Gerry Buckley.
“President Buckley is one busy guy, but still reserves time for his students,” Delk said.
Delk acts as a liaison between students with a complaint and the people who can remedy a problem, which could be about a lack of captioning for classroom videos or other access services.
“NTID’s Department of Access Services does their best to serve their students with the limited resources they have, so if situations cannot be resolved—which is a very rare case—we become creative and find alternative solutions like one-on-one sessions with the professor or find compatible tutoring services,” he said.
Delk encourages students to meet with him to discuss problems or suggestions. They can even remain anonymous. He has office hours “and I’m willing to meet any time. I’ll even buy you coffee or tea.”
When he’s not busy meeting with students or faculty members, Delk enjoys reading, creating graphics, video editing, snowboarding, longboarding, the outdoors and collecting beer bottle caps and coasters.
And after he earns his bachelor’s degree, he’ll still be thinking of somehow bridging the deaf and hearing communities by starting his own business or nonprofit group that can expose more hearing people to deaf individuals.