Kariss Alcorn, hailing from the village of Carlisle, Ohio, is a senior at Harvard college concentrating in neurobiology. She first got involved with the Deaf Awareness Club (DAC) her sophomore spring through their Sunday American Sign Language (ASL) classes. She always wanted to learn ASL and was distraught when she realized Harvard did not offer it for course credit. Growing up unilaterally deaf, Kariss knows what it is like to feel like you are not important enough to communicate with or to be brushed off by people not willing to make extra effort in conversation. She had never met any Deaf people before this, but she figured they may feel similarly and wanted to potentially minimize this feeling in a small way by learning ASL herself.
The next fall, Harvard began offering ASL classes for credit for the first time in 20 years, thanks to the support of DAC and the Linguistics Department. Kariss was lucky enough to win the lottery to take the class! Now, she is now in ASL 4 and is so grateful for this experience. She says, “I began learning about Deaf culture: a culture deeply intertwined in American culture that affects us greatly, but a culture that most people do not know exists.” She became Events Coordinator of DAC the fall of her junior year, and she helped organize events involving the Deaf community. The DAC’s main goal is to educate the Harvard Community on Deaf culture. Thus, it was important to give the Deaf community a platform to speak and also to make these events accessible to all, regardless levels of knowledge of ASL and Deaf culture.
She recounts the following: “My favorite moment came from an event that DAC and I organized in the fall of 2017, the Deaf Lives Panel. We had four members from the Deaf community come in and tell stories of their lives and allowed the audience to ask questions. A woman was there alone and stood up to ask a question. Her baby was born hearing, but is losing the ability to hear every day and would eventually become deaf. She did not know what to do, but the panel, Deaf Community, and DAC offered her support. Witnessing her fears be eased and the support received was one of the most amazing things I have experienced at Harvard.”
Kariss has greatly enjoyed meeting amazing Deaf people from around the world, going to Deaf events in the Boston area, supporting and receiving support from the Deaf Community, advocating for accessibility at Harvard, and more. She is so happy to have had this experience. For her, it is truly one of the most enriching experiences and has taught her so much about access, advocacy, and herself.