The loudest voice is the one not spoken

Having heard noises and some words here and there for most of her young life with a hearing aid, Lorita Slieter never knew there was an entire community full of professionals who were also deaf, until she decided to attend California State University—Northridge for deaf culture and deaf education.

“I grew up and I thought I was good at reading lips. I had no interpreter throughout elementary, middle school, high school, two years of college, and then I went to CSUN and for the first time saw interpreters doing sign language,” signed Slieter, a deaf teacher at Wichita State who teaches deaf culture, American Sign Language 1, 2, 3 and 4.

“I never realized how much information I had missed out on,” Slieter signed as Debbie McCann, an interpreter for WSU, said. 

Slieter decided to attend CSUN after graduating from Newton High School because of the large deaf population that was present there.

“The three largest deaf communities in the country are in Los Angles, Washington D.C and in Maryland,” signed Slieter.

Growing up, Sleiter was always reserved and quiet because there was that communication barrier with her classmates, but the first time her father flew to CSUN to visit he told her that this is where she belonged as he saw her signing to others and being more open.

Slieter thought doing sign language was for the people who weren’t smart enough to understand with their hearing aids and upon arriving to CSUN was proven wrong.

Moving to Kansas in 1994 because of her husband’s new job, Slieter began teaching at WSU.

“When I first started here at WSU there was no curriculum for sign language since it was just starting here,” she signed. “[WSU] didn’t even have an ASL class here.”

Remembering back to when she only had about five students in her class, Slieter now happily said she has about 45-60 students in her deaf culture class.

“Back seven to eight years, students and I petitioned along with other faculty and staff so that ASL may be accepted as a foreign language and it is great that WSU students now have that choice when looking at what foreign language to take,” Slieter signed.

Junior Meghan Hopper, who takes deaf culture from Slieter, said the experience of having a deaf teacher has made a world of difference.

“Lorita is able to share her personal experiences and help us understand how deaf culture works from a deaf person’s point of view,” Hopper said.

Personally speaking, McCain said that having a deaf teacher teaching at least that first ASL class really makes it more personal for the students.

“Sometimes Lorita is the first and only deaf person that a lot of these students have ever come in contact with and they are able to ask her questions about her being deaf,” McCann said.

One thing Slieter also had a hand in was requiring all audiology and speech pathology students to take deaf culture.

“I talked with the chair person at the time (Dr. Apel) and wrote letters and talked when there were meetings and [the students and I] worked on that and now all those students will have that deaf perspective,” signed Slieter.

Hopper can see that respectful attitude in Slieter’s class. Slieter teaches her ASL class using miming, writing on the blackboard, videos and other things except for speaking. Students are not allowed to talk.

“Lorita has taught me to respect the differences between the hearing and deaf communities. I would encourage any student to take this course, whether it’s for a major, general elective or fun. Lorita is an amazing woman, and the class is a real eye opener,” Hopper said.

Slieter thinks the work is halfway there.

“My next dream would be to have an ITP (interpreter training program) here,” she said. “I think we can bring in a bigger percentage of deaf students if we have more interpreters in the city.”