UNC alumnus and graduate student, Nouri Marrakchi, shares his experience and advocacy as a leader in the deaf and hard of hearing community.

For our audience, I’d like to introduce both of our guests. We have Nouri as well as Nick. Nick, would you like to give a brief explanation of your role here today?

Sure. I am an interpreter here on campus at UNC and so I was called in for this assignment and so I'm here to interpret for Nouri and his audience and you as well.

Perfect. Thank you. And Nouri, would you like to give your introduction?

Sure. My name is Nouri and I'm, I'm a graduate student in the T.A.S.L. Teaching American Sign Language program here at UNC and interpreting studies. It's called ASLIS, and I've been here since my undergraduate, actually.

I graduated with my bachelor's here at UNC with Special Ed and then I returned for my masters.

Wonderful. We can get right to it. Would you like to share a brief history about you before coming to UNC? It could be a story or a little synopsis. It’s up to you.

You Bet.

So I was born deaf. It's congenital to hearing family and my family knows sign.

I'm very fortunate for that because not too many deaf individuals grow up in a hearing family that knows sign language.

So that was really impressed upon me of how involved my parents are and my family is. I went to Legacy High School in Broomfield near Denver in the deaf ed program there and I graduated from there.

And then when I graduated from Legacy in 2008, I decided to figure out exactly what I wanted to do.

I was a little unsure at the time. I didn't know if I wanted to be - well at that time a special ed teacher named, Lisa, that I spoke with said, 'you should be, become a teacher.' A teacher of the deaf, T.O.D.

And I thought, well, that sounds pretty good.

And so I did get into deaf education and started my studies there.

And then I got into UNC, but there really wasn't a deaf ed program for a Bachelor's at that time.

And so I went ahead and got in special Ed.

And that was in the fall of that year and I just started taking my core classes and getting into my major. I graduated in 2013 with my bachelor's in special education.

And then after that I moved to Maryland and I went to McDaniel for graduate in Deaf Education at a college there.

And I was only there for one semester. I wasn't too happy with. It just didn't fit.

And so, I returned back home, here in Colorado trying to figure out what I wanted to do.

And then subsequent to that I had some friends that spoke with me and said, 'you should teach American Sign Language.'

And I thought, you know, I don't know if I'm qualified to teach American sign language.

And then I thought, 'well, it is my native language, but you know, it was strange to have that kind of dichotomy within myself.'

So after that I decided to move to Indiana.

Now, I have traveled around extensively, but I moved to Indiana and I got a job there.

I didn't have a qualification, so I wasn't sure if I was going to get offered the job.

It was really a farm town that are called Peru, Indiana. A Farm town, small town, you know, rural, Indiana.

There's just not a large population.

Corn?

Yeah, they had some corn, not a lot of corn fields, but it was just really kind of this small quaint town. Not too many people. I mean, I'm sure people in Peru...

Well actually I'd like to give a shout out to people through right now. Hey, Hey Peru, what's going on?!

And you know, just such a great town with great people. And so I started teaching American Sign Language at the local school. In two years after that, the program disbanded.

And so I went to Elkhart, which is near South Bend, Indiana. People are familiar with South Bend, but it's about an hour and a half drive up North.

And so I started teaching there for my third year teaching American Sign Language.

And at that time in between that transition, UNC had contacted me and said, hey, 'would you like to start your master's in the T.A.S.L. (Teaching American Sign Language) program?'

So I applied, I was accepted, but it just was a bad time.

I was changing schools. I was moving to a different area in the state, so I wanted to see how that would go for about a year.

And so I put TASL program on hold here at UNC for a year and I went back to teaching.

At that time UNC had offered me a G.A., a graduate assistant position, and I turned it down because I was in Indiana and I knew that I probably wouldn't have another opportunity that would arise like that.

And so after that one year, and it was a phenomenal year, just great services, it was such a great experience for me and I thank for them too, to have me there.

Then all of a sudden UNC got back in touch with me and said, 'hey, the program's waiting for you.'

And so they did offer me a G.A. position again, which is pretty rare. UNC, you know, usually they may offer that up one time and then find someone else the next year.

So, you know, really I have considered UNC my home and, you know, get my bachelor's here.

And so I thought, you know, I'm going to go ahead and go back to my on alma mater and further my education.

So, I moved back here.

Luckily in Indiana. Had found another teacher to take my place, which really provided some relief. And then I moved back home to Colorado.

Welcome back.

Thank you so much. It's nice to be home too.

Good. What do you do here at UNC now that you have an assistantship, what are your roles?

Sure. Currently as a GA, I'm a graduate assistant teacher for the T.A.S.L. American Sign Language Department.

They just added two instructors this year, so now there's seven deaf teachers here on campus, teachers who are deaf and the majority of them are contract, full time, or adjunct. I'm kind of at the lower level of a GTA graduate teaching assistant.

Really, I can't complain, right?

That I'm able to work while I'm getting my master's and, you know, some things are paid for that wouldn’t normally be, so that's a great relief.

So this past fall I started teaching and then this past spring semester as well. My goal is to become a full time faculty here.

And know, I just look back on my time here, going back to my undergraduate with a B.A. and now possibly and teaching my whole time you're teaching at the school that I that I got my undergraduate and now my getting my master's this December.

You know, really UNC is my home.

I have my whole college career has been here at this school. So UNC has been very, very good to me.

Would you want to stick with teaching in higher education or are you looking to teach anywhere?

Well, long term goal, I would love to teach in higher ed for sure.

I really think it depends on which way the wind's blowing and which way it's going to take me.

Really, it's a hot job market right now, especially in the Teaching American Sign Language.

And so I'm trying to look at all my viable opportunities.

And really I'm just, I consider myself blessed that I'm here and I have the opportunity to get my feet wet here at UNC.

And then have this kind of springboard onto if I were to go somewhere else.

I don't know.

I have considered getting my Ph.D. That would come later on in life, but not definitely not right now, but it's something that I would actually put on my plate.

What is the best way for students to connect with the DHH group on campus? And let's just be clear of what DHH is that is the Deaf for Hard of Hearing - Am I correct?

It's actually Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Okay.

The best way to get in touch with them here at UNC...I think the most important piece would be just to make sure that everyone knows that there's deaf people here on campus and that they include them.

I think there's a lot of barriers for deaf people just feeling isolated with their native language not being spoken.

And of course there are other ways to communicate.

You don't have to just know sign language. You can just have a piece of paper and a pen, or just smile to someone and just wave to them, just really make them feel at home here at UNC.

I think really at any colleges around the country, if they see someone that's deaf on our campus or we're through our deaf students on campus just to go up and just say hello like you did this morning.

Right? I mean that really just kinda alleviated some, a lot of anxiety and some nervousness and stuff.

And really it's just a welcoming environment for all people.

But sadly, my time here, I've noticed that it's kind of shrinking with some of these diverse opinions.

However, deaf students, there used to be 15, we used to have 15 students here, which is a large number of deaf students to be on one campus.

Especially here in Colorado. So our freshman year we had 15 students and then that's kind of dwindled down over the years, which is sad to see.

And I really hope that that the deaf and hard of hearing population can grow again. I would like to see that number go back to 15 or even greater.

Why do you think it has shrunk?

I think maybe for a variety of factors. I think some students just wanted to see what schools have access to their language.

For example, there's I guess two or three institutions that have large growth for deaf students.

One is Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. But that's a mecca for deaf international students all across the globe because everyone signs, right?

It's the only liberal arts program for deaf people in the world.

And if I didn't come to UNC, I was going to go to Gallaudet because of the language, it was already in place.

And my parents thought, 'you can do that Nouri, however, we do hope that you stick around closer.'

There's another one, R.I.T., which is Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.

And they have a signing program up there.

They do have two separate campuses.

One is R.I.T. And then next to that is NTID, which is the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and they do work in collaboration with each other.

I have some friends that have gone to Gallaudet, have friends who have gone to RIT and then CSUN is the other one. But that's, that's on the west coast. That's California State University, Northridge and that's in Northridge, California.

And because they have language accessibility there as well.

So there are some prominent schools for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals in the country.

Other institutions may not have been exposed to the language.

I think whenever you have a language in place, it's automatically destined for students to gravitate toward those sites.

And also, I think it's imperative for hearing people to understand that we do have a, the ASLIS program here.

We also have ASL that's being taught.

We also have a bachelor's in interpreting that's being taught here.

And really it's a great breakthrough for people, deaf, hard of hearing people to come here and learn about deaf culture and about deaf history and working with deaf people, and then to venture off from here - Just because we have everything here. It's almost like a one stop shop.

We have an ASL club. I was actually involved in that ASL club very heavily whenever I was in my undergraduate.

And now we're trying to get that reinvigorated again, but I am one of the faculty advisers now on that club.

So we at UNC have already started to recognize how important ASLIS is for our community and how important American Sign Language is and the acquisition of that language for hearing people in order to collaborate and work together with people of different communities.

And, you know, I've actually thought about becoming a Superintendent for a school district or for a deaf school.

So I have, I've been paying more attention to that because I would like that to be a long-term goal.

I would like to socialize a little bit more with some superintendents or some presidents for higher ed just to really kind of get their view and share my view on how they can facilitate a more round and rich cultural identity at their schools.

You have some great foresight into not only what you want to do, but what to make cultural norms and that's, that's a relief to hear.

When it comes to students on campus and not even student, but instructors – What should instructors and students know when it comes to working with interpreters as well as the DHH groups?

Yeah, that's a good question.

So, I think to keep it the forefront, I think today, deaf people are kind of isolated and hidden from view.

They're afraid of how they're going to be identified.

Previously, it was even worse. I think now, deaf people are more open to saying, 'Hey, I'm a deaf person and I'm here on campus and, you know, what do you have for me?'

And I think that the more that people that hearing people, the hearing communities, and the hearing world can see that.

That it's not just one person that's here on campus, but they bring a whole lot of a background with them and cultural identity and richness and, and how they fit in to our existing community as an institution.

Let's just say, you know, like there's 300 students in a biology class, right?

Well, it's important for a deaf person to feel at home in that class just like every hearing person.

I mean, you hear those stories about someone that goes into a 300 student classroom and they may sit in the back and they're isolated.

Well, that's how a deaf person, a deaf student feels all the time and in every class.

And so I'm sure that people in the Special Ed Department already aware of this.

But really UNC, with all these programs already in place here is a great place to do that.

And then, if anyone knows Dr. Corey Pierce over in McKee, he's such a great guy.

I had him as an instructor in my undergraduate and former advisor of mine.

And we've developed that, that relationship and that rapport.

And I think that UNC really needs to recognize that as well because just an instructor can be your advisor as well because you're getting valuable information from them.

And so I think working with just instructors as well as advisers can really lend itself well to students navigating their career.

And then also, deaf people are part of this community on campus here at UNC in Greeley.

I’d say going back to having communication with students, the beautiful use of technology and our phones. Like for instance, I was having trouble writing my chicken scratch and asking you questions and then you pulled out your phone and you just quickly give me an answer. And it’s perfect font and everything.

So I think it’s easier now than ever to basically go for that cultural norm, especially here at UNC.

Due to time, we have one more question. If you had one thing that you’d want to understand about DHH students, what is it? Unless you feel like you answered it.

Hm. I think the one thing that I want to stress upon the institution is that the deaf community can contribute so much, just as equal, if not more than the hearing community.

I'd like to UNC to understand that just because there is a student who is deaf doesn't mean that they can't contribute something, and it doesn't mean that they can be marginalized.

They'd been marginalized their whole life.

There are deaf students that are in psychology programs, and teaching programs and biology programs, and are becoming lawyers and doctors.

I think UNC needs to see the, the long-term occupational opportunities of deaf and hard of hearing students.

And I think that’s a friendly reminder that you probably read body language a lot better than anyone else. So it’s a promotion for instructors and students to make eye contact and feel comfortable because you are able to read them.

That's right. Yup, exactly.

For me, my whole time has been here really I have been the face of the deaf community here at UNC and I want to make sure that I can lead that role and take that role and do it justice so that for the following perspective, deaf or hard of hearing students on campus here at UNC.

That we do have interpreting program.

We have accommodations for you in your classroom.

Note takers, interpreters,

You know, I wish hearing teachers and students have felt that they could, we could collaborate more with deaf students. There's an ASL club year and we're doing more and more each semester.

I would like to see the number of deaf students grow here again at UNC and that's my goal, that it will happen.

Well, let's hope that happens

Nouri and Nick, Thank you so much.

Thank you. I appreciate it for having me on the show, and I really hope that this show really does make an impact on everyone who going to be listening. And hopefully I can sit down and talk with the president one day

And get there!

Yeah, you bet!

Music:

Podington Bear – Daydream Heartbeat

Podington Bear – Gentle Heart