Communicating Sans Voice

Victoria Cubera

I lost my voice last weekend, falling victim to the waves of sickness that sweep through the campus at regular intervals. Whether or not the tidal surges of illness are in any way, shape or form connected to questionable activity at the Jug remains to be determined. But look around; chances are that someone within the fifty-foot radius is coughing, sneezing or generally feeling horrible. Avoiding contamination may not be a realistic possibility, especially since some people don’t seem to regard infection as a reason to cease and desist from hooking up, as most of those students who contracted strep throat during the outbreak last semester should remember very well.

Still, all bad judgment calls aside, hopefully most people have enough common sense to medicate themselves legally, stay hydrated with liquids that do not include alcohol, contain coughing and sneezing fits through hygienic methods and wash their hands or use sanitizers. Anti-social behavior within the recovery time frame is completely acceptable as well, as long as people know you are sick and did not arbitrarily decide to stop speaking to them, ? la middle school feuds.

Losing my voice was an interesting experience. Generally, I’m fairly loquacious, and having little-to-no vocal capabilities didn’t really deter me from trying to use my voice anyway. I had decidedly mixed results. Friend and fellow first-year, Lindsay Ward, after hearing my attempts to sing along during Catholic Mass, told me at times she thought there was a man sitting beside her. My mom was sad because I couldn’t talk to her and give her the weekly rundown of my various activities. When I was actually resting my throat and settling for just waving my greetings to people I know, I was greeted with a combination of mockery, sympathy and questions as to the origin of my dilemma, to which I claim complete ignorance.

Some good things did come out of me shutting my mouth this weekend. My neighbors in the hall enjoyed a break from my incessant singing sessions. I got to do a little more listening than usual, which was good because I know a lot of people going through a rough time right now. It was also incredibly frustrating but an exciting exercise in tolerance, as I had no voice to ask the annoying girls down the hall to quiet down at three in the morning when I was trying to sleep. But because my eighth-grade literature teacher insisted on her classes learning to finger spell while reading The Miracle Worker, I had a chance to exercise what little I know of American Sign Language (ASL).

Don’t let me exaggerate my skills. In addition to finger-spelling, I only know maybe ten words in ASL. But my roommate also knows how to finger-spell, and that lucky coincidence meant she and I could talk with no verbal participation required on my part. It got me wondering, though. Where is the deaf and hearing-impaired population on campus? I’m sure there is a presence, but I don’t think I’ve been exposed to any material beyond a general disability brochure from Academic Support and Disability Services. I have yet to see a lecture or event on campus that was translated into sign language for the general audience.

And maybe there isn’t an overwhelming demand for such services on campus. I honestly have no idea; I’m currently in contact with administrators investigating the options that exist for learning ASL at Colgate.

Given the fact we live in a linguistically pluralistic world, Colgate has instituted language requirements for all its students, in order to foster better communication skills for life outside the “Colgate bubble.” The University offers a variety of classical and modern language programs, eleven in all, including Latin, Hebrew, Chinese, Arabic, Russian and Italian. While not focused on oral delivery, American Sign Language is still a language used by a substantial group of people within the United States, and to a lesser extent, abroad. If credit-earning courses were available in ASL, I would definitely be interested in taking them. Maybe in the future Colgate will opt to diversify the Language department a little further. By the next time I lose my voice, I would love to be able not just to gesture, but to truly talk with my hands.