Student’s Disability Inspires and Educates Campus - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Student’s Disability Inspires and Educates Campus

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Incoming freshman and new students took a group picture in front of the famous Jubilee Hall. Incoming freshman and new students took a group picture in front of the famous Jubilee Hall.
Dwayne Hightower Dwayne Hightower

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  - After nearly 150 years, Fisk University continues to make history, enrolling its first deaf student.

It's the beginning of the school year at Fisk University, and in line with tradition, incoming freshman and new students took a group picture in front of the famous Jubilee Hall. Women dressed in all white, while the men wore dark suits and ties.

This class of 260 students brings much to the university. They are the largest incoming class in five years and have the highest collective GPA in a decade. It also includes Dwayne Hightower. Looking at him, he appears to be just like his fellow students, but it's what he can't hear that makes him stand out.

"I didn't realize that the hearing would choose a deaf person. I was so honored because hearing people need to see that deaf people are able and can be here," said Hightower.

At 29-years-old, Hightower is not your traditional student. With the help of his sign language interpreter, Annie Masters, Hightower has also become a teacher.

"I never imagined that people would come up to me. I figured one or two, I expected, but what feels like the whole campus coming up saying, 'Hey I want to know how to spell this or can you teach me this,'" said Hightower.

Philippe Andal, president of the Student Government Association, said Hightower brings a new form of diversity to the university that has not only been welcomed, but embraced.

"It's actually exciting because when the class found out they had a deaf student amongst themselves during orientation, the second day of orientation they already had a petition with 144 signatures to get a class started," said Andal.

Jamal Hutchinson is Dwayne's academic advisor and says advising a deaf student has its challenges, but the rewards are much greater for the Fisk University family.

"I think our students now are more global and can see and appreciate the differences in people and gravitate towards that and unite around being different," said Hutchinson. "It's okay to be different. I can learn from you; you can learn from me."

Dwayne says he could have gone to the leading university for the deaf, Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., but that would not have been Fisk.

"We are all part of the same family. You're hearing; I'm deaf; that's fine, but we are all here in it together," said Hightower.

Fisk's student government association is working to create an American Sign Language club for students in response to the petition.

There are plans to create sign language classes in time for the upcoming spring semester.

 

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