Amy Claridge: Deaf Studies BSc at Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies – the end of an era

Posted on April 22, 2013


Growing up in a Deaf family, I suppose a career in the Deaf sector always made sense.

However it wasn’t until I was flipping through the University of Bristol prospectus on my way to check out the French department on an Open Day that I realised it. I always knew my passion lay in education and I always had a passion for BSL, but flipping that page and seeing ‘Deaf Studies’ before me, it all clicked into place. On my tour of the Arts departments I snuck off to check out the Centre for Deaf Studies (CDS), and the rest is history.

However, in the Summer of 2010, with an offer in hand and the excitement of starting in the Autumn, rumours began to spread that the BSc in Deaf Studies was heading for the chop due to University cuts.

Uncertain of our future, my future classmates and I exchanged fears via the student room and Facebook, dreading the potential of this wonderful degree falling out of our hands. The students in Bristol protested, the worldwide campaign was launched at http://www.savedeafstudies.org.uk/ and just under 6,000 people from around the world signed the petition.

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All the while, we potential students awaited our fate in our homes across the country. Unfortunately, the University of Bristol went ahead with its proposals and the BSc of Deaf Studies was due to shut down. Luckily for us, however, our offers were still to be upheld and we were to be the final students to get the ‘CDS’ experience.

And what a wonderful experience it has been. Choosing Deaf Studies over French has to be the greatest decision of my life.

As a Deaf Studies student, your experience is so different to that of a ‘conventional’ degree programme. However, that is the beauty of it. Within the past three years we have been lectured by the world leading experts in the various fields. I can honestly say it never stops being bizarre citing ‘Ladd, P.’, ‘Sutton-Spence, R.’ or ‘Kyle, J.’ and then going in for a tutorial with them in person … It is even weirder turning on the TV and seeing half of them within the space of a show. Safe to say, not the average ‘Bristol’ experience.

CDS uses immersive learning techniques, using a ‘Voice-Off’ policy, meaning anyone entering the CDS building must sign, providing quicker learning and access to any Deaf staff, students or visitors. Though terrifying at first, watching the transformation from the ‘Deer in Headlights’ of the sign newbies in our group to the confident signers we saw interpreting before 200 students at the AGM was wonderful.

But most of all, Deaf Studies is different because it feels like a community; one might even say a ‘family’. With an average group size kept to just 15 students (the very nature of BSL means larger groups would not be feasible) you not only get an tremendously individualised learning experience but you can’t help but feel a sense of camaraderie with your fellow students.

This sense also stretches to the wonderful staff team. Lecturers feel more like allies and friends rather than overbearing lecturers aiming to slip you up. They are aware that we are all in this together, and though the work can be difficult we know it is because they want us to do the best we can for ourselves and the Deaf community.

Due to this unique solidarity, we get the unique experience that I keep going on about. Such as going out for drinks after a terrifying interpreting assignment (interpreting before 200 of your fellow students? Pretty glad I didn’t take the interpreting route …). Or watching a world-leading linguists’ wonderful, rare sign poetry DVD over soup and ice cream after-hours.

600686_10151766708395012_1794358645_nNot only do we let them into our lives, they let us into their lives. Which makes it so much harder when the cuts meant that we had to say goodbye to some of our staff ‘family’. We went for a leaving meal for lecturers (see left) and one of the lecturers even brought her kids.

Although we have been lucky enough to have the experience of CDS in all its glory, we’ve also had the misfortune of watching this slowly fade away. With the loss of new students, you are no longer guaranteed to walk the ground floor of the Priory Road Complex and see someone signing. Due to the lowering of student numbers many of our staff were ‘no longer required’.

Though they hide it well, we can’t help but also be emotionally affected when we see our CDS ‘family’ going through the strains of cuts. Budget cuts also meant we had to actively campaign to retain our right to two lecturers for Advanced BSL (a right that every previous student had).

So now, as we enter our exam season and graduation draws close, we are reflecting a lot on what CDS has meant to us, and what the future will bring. Not only for ourselves, but also for this unique centre. Bristol University may not have realised the repercussions that would derive from cutting this degree programme. The ‘essential cuts’ to the University are small change to further fund the favoured Science degrees. As can be seen in the fact that soon after the Deaf Studies ‘necessary’ funding cuts were announced, a sum of £54 million was allocated towards a new Biology building.

As I’m sure many of you are aware (just look at the ‘Spit the dummy’ page if you need reminding) there is a huge lack of interpreters in Britain and Bristol was one of just three institutions that teaches Deaf Studies/Interpreting in the UK at degree-level and it is the only Russell group University to do so. Since joining Deaf Studies I have met several people who, having heard my experiences, have been keen to follow in my footsteps to Bristol. It’s a horrible experience having to tell them that they can’t.

So, on reflection of our time in Deaf Studies we have decided to throw a ball to commemorate the past 30 years of CDS. To honour the BSc and throw to light the many wonderful students that have come out of it; years of interpreters, teachers, researchers and so on. So we, the final cohort, invite you, alumni, staff and friends of CDS to reminisce over the past 30 years, reunite with old course mates and most of all to celebrate the Deaf Studies legacy.

The Deaf Studies ‘BSc Ball’ will be held on the 22nd of June, 2013 in MShed in Bristol Harbour. Full information and tickets are available at http://deafstudiesball.eventbrite.com/

Amy Claridge is a 3rd Year Deaf Studies at the University. In her free time she is also on the Board of Directors for CODA UK & Ireland for Children of Deaf Adults and is hoping to commence training to become a Teacher of the Deaf after graduating.

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