Humble lecturer imparts lessons in Deaf culture i

    Tom Humphries is a lecturer of communication and in the Teacher Education Program at UCSD, but he is not just a typical lecturer. Being deaf is a quality that distinguishes him from others, and as a deaf lecturer, his teaching experiences and those he provides for his students are somewhat unique.

    Tyler Huff/Guardian
    Signs of the times: Tom Humphries lectures to his communication class in American Sign Language as an interpreter speaks on his behalf.

    Humphries was not born deaf, or even into a deaf family. His hearing declined around age six, and in his teens, he referred to his condition as “”hard of hearing,”” a term which implies that an individual can still hear some sounds and is not completely deaf.

    Growing up, he came to realize the full measure of his hearing loss and simultaneously adopted a very optimistic perspective.

    He tells his students that just because he belongs to a community that can’t hear doesn’t mean he considers himself disabled in the least. In fact, much of what he teaches in his classes deals with the idea that although hearing people may always see deaf people as different from themselves in a category labeled as “”other,”” deaf people have a community and culture of their own and see themselves as fully capable human beings. By not comparing themselves to hearing people, they are careful not to further the dominant beliefs that they are inferior in any way to the hearing culture. According to Humphries, then, deaf people are not lacking and incomplete; instead they are simply an entirely separate culture that is not always understood by the hearing community.

    Humphries is a self-proclaimed laid-back guy who grew up in a small town in South Carolina and attended a local public school. As a youngster, he was surrounded by hearing folks.

    “”I did not even meet other deaf people until I entered Gallaudet University, a college for deaf students in Washington, D.C.,”” he said.

    In his teenage years, he would work during summers for his uncle, who was a certified public accountant, in an effort to raise money for college. But when Humphries got to college, he changed the direction of his scope of study. He realized that his true passion was to study English.

    “”I always loved to read. I was one of those who could never read enough,”” he said. “”And at that time there was no Amazon.com, and the drug stores were the only places you could buy books. They never had much of a selection, so I spent twelve years in the library.””

    He went on to embrace his love for language, majoring in English education at Gallaudet University and continuing there, teaching in the english department.

    Humphries moved to San Diego in 1978 and began his teaching career at UCSD in 1991. He has since made a livelihood from his fascination for the English language by teaching college-level communication classes, and is also the associate director of the Teacher Education Program at UCSD.

    How does a deaf man lecture to a Center Hall-sized class about communication, when he cannot communicate in standard English and most of his students are not versed in sign language?

    His classes operate essentially like any other with one distinct difference ‹ Humphries lectures in American Sign Language with the help of one or two interpreters, Mala Kleinfeld and Bonnie Sherwood.

    “”You’ll get used to this really quickly,”” he assured his students on the first day of class, when, to the shock of many students, a woman’s voice spoke to them on behalf of Humphries, who enthusiastically draws visual aids on the board during most of his lectures.

    Students seem to agree that this teaching method is different but engaging.

    “”I think it’s very interesting, considering I’ve never had a professor who was deaf before. I feel more appreciative for the culture now,”” said Sindy Block, a Thurgood Marshall College senior in Humphries’ communication class, which is appropriately titled “”The Power of Voice.””

    Humphries explains that ASL is an official language, just like any spoken language, bound by culture and rich in meaning.

    “”ASL is more than mere gestures,”” he teaches his students.

    Humphries believes that being a member of the deaf community has certainly helped to shape his life experiences and career paths.

    “”I realized early on that there is so much to learn from ASL and communication in the deaf community, and that tells us a lot about the capacity of sign language and the capacity of culture,”” Humphries said.

    He emphasizes that his research in the field of language in the deaf community translates to universal lessons about communication that apply to anyone.

    “”I am interested in language and language use, and how communication works through that process,”” Humphries explained. “”I’m not talking about only my lab in the deaf community, but this is a really interesting, broad question.””

    While his academic research is important to him, Humphries says his greatest accomplishments were no-brainers.

    “”I don’t know whether to say [my greatest accomplishment was] my daughter or my loving relationship with my wife,”” he said. “”I guess I would have to say my greatest accomplishment is my family.””

    Where his professional life is concerned, however, Humphries points to the work he’s done within the deaf community.

    “”My whole career has been spent on experimentation, and I’m very proud of trying to be creative and innovative,”” he said.

    Humphries has also spent a great deal of time devoting himself to training teachers in deaf education, using what he describes as the “”bilingual method instead of special education.”” Essentially, he is helping teachers educate children in both ASL and the spoken language native to their homeland, whether it is English, Spanish, Vietnamese or any other language.

    In addition, he has involved himself in several national and international organizations. He is one of the founding members of a local chapter of the ASL Teachers Organization, which is a professional association that promotes educational occupations among the deaf. Humphries is also active in Deaf Community Services, a social services organization that gives assistance to members of the deaf community.

    To complement his involvement in such organizations, Humphries also co-authored a book that is required reading in many classes called “”Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture.”” His writing partner for this book is his wife and fellow UCSD communication professor, Carol Padden, who was born deaf.

    Insight into Humphries’ outlook on life as a husband, father, professor and member of the deaf community can be found on the first page of this book, on which Humphries and Padden impart their personal goals by stating, “”We have always felt that the attention given to the physical condition of not hearing has obscured far more interesting facets of deaf peoples’ lives.””

    Despite his accomplishments, Humphries shies away from imparting wisdom.

    “”I’m just a humble guy from the sticks. I’m just a hard worker,”” he said. “”You’re in trouble if you have to come to me for advice. I’m too old to advise young people; my advice wouldn’t be relevant.””

    His students would beg to differ.

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