By Ashley Mott
Arts and Entertainment Editor
There are things that make each and every person unique in their own way. Special talents, different languages and even different personalities all contribute to the makeup of a single unique person. Here at Cleveland State University, there is one student who is taking his own unique personality and using it to bridge a gap between two worlds of people, two different cultures, the bridge between the hearing world and the Deaf world.
Jaison Anderson is a student here at Cleveland State who is in his senior year of his program track to become a Mild Education Intervention Specialist. With him, he brings a light that seems to brighten the days of those around him, even if they aren’t sure who he is.
Anderson identifies as a Deaf individual but dives deep into both worlds of hearing and Deaf alike. From the start of his freshman year at Cleveland State, he sought to challenge himself and help make the world more inclusive. He had an offer to go to Gallaudet, a university that is known for being Deaf, but he turned it down in favor of the scholarship he had to Cleveland State because he wanted a challenge.
“I want to challenge myself in the hearing world,” Anderson said.
He knew that being in a college that required him to interact with hearing students would be the best thing for him. He traditionally only had interactions with other Deaf students prior to college, but he wanted to make people more aware about his culture, and he has since tried to spread it while being here at Cleveland State.
Joining the American Sign Language (ASL) Club here at the university, Anderson was able to make an impact on the people in the club right from the start. He immediately got involved with ASL Idol, an event created to show the beauty of their language and support one another, by performing two songs his first year and being an MC in the show.
For him, ASL Club afforded him the ability to talk to people about signing, what it means and how to learn. He was able to go after some of his goals in relation to the spreading of the language and getting involved with the club itself.
“[I want] to spread ASL, Deaf Culture and help other students with signing and introducing them into the Deaf world. To socialize with them and get an opportunity to know them, it’s beautiful,” Anderson said, reflecting on why he joined in the beginning. “I joined because I love ASL and I want to help it be the best that it can be.”
However, he doesn’t attribute all the growth of the organization and himself to sheer luck or his own abilities. Anderson knew that he had a lot to be grateful for in terms of professors, interpreters and friends that have helped him throughout the years.
“[My interpreters] give me different perspectives of the Deaf and hearing worlds, because there are times when I don’t know myself and times where I do know myself. I’m in the middle of two worlds,” Anderson said, reflecting back on how their perspectives helped him find his middle ground.
He explained that there are things a hearing person can say to another hearing person that would be considered socially acceptable. In that same thought, there are things that a Deaf person can say to another Deaf person and it be okay, but there are things that a Deaf person can’t say to a hearing person or vice versa that would be considered okay. It’s moments like these that cause misunderstandings because neither party understands the other’s culture.
“My model of life is bringing hearing and Deaf closer together,” Anderson said. “Peace, even, fair and respect.”
Anderson is becoming a bridge between many people in the two worlds. He has found new and inventive ways to bring them together, including making ASL Idol a bigger event to attract more people and show them what sign language is all about. He attributes a lot of his creativity in this area to a former Cleveland State student.
“Angelica, without her, I don’t think that I would be at this point creatively. I don’t think that I would be this outgoing and creative, she opened the door for me. I owe her that,” Anderson said.
He started off his first performances with the event in simple costumes or just adding dance moves in. He has since created more elaborate visual effects like a full color suit, wigs, grass skirts, glow in the dark clothing and glow sticks for the audiences. His want to get crowd participation has gained him a lot of momentum compared to when he first started.
That isn’t to say that he didn’t hit some road bumps along the way. He is grateful for all the services that Cleveland State offers, but sometimes, they aren’t as successful because they don’t ask him what he needs, or what would be best and instead list a bunch of items off by simply saying things like “Will this be okay” or “We can offer you this.”
That said, he is thankful for his professors that have helped him when there have been these kinds of bumps in the road. The ASL professors here have become great resources for him in his time at the university.
“They put power and motivation into me. They helped me and made me better every day. I’m not perfect, but they still made me better,” Anderson said.
In the meantime, he is spreading the help that he receives to other students by offering tutoring on campus and educating people who don’t understand him or his culture just yet. While some professors don’t understand how to communicate through ASL or an interpreter, he doesn’t let that discourage him, and he takes a more peaceful approach to the matter.
“[If] you don’t understand the culture, that’s fine. I’ll just educate you the right way, by either being a friend or being a student,” Anderson said.
While he’s making it a point to bridge the two worlds, he still has his work cut out for him. He recalled an experienced when he was almost arrested simply because officers thought he was suspicious for signing a song on his way back to his home. It wasn’t until a store clerk said that he wasn’t the robber that he was really let go.
Despite this experience, even though it was very scary for him, he hasn’t let it change his demeanor towards the hearing community. Instead it has renewed his resolve to bridge the gaps so that there aren’t anymore misunderstandings like this.
He is trying to improve the atmosphere between the two worlds one day at a time and is using ASL Idol as a big part of the plan to increase communication and acceptance. He is pushing for two members of the club to run for officers because he believes that, though he has had a good impact on the communities here at Cleveland State, that they can do better.
“I really encourage them to run because I feel like they can make a better and more powerful impact on the club than I can,” Anderson said with a smile.
Though it might take a while to bridge the gap completely and though there have been set backs and frightening moments, Anderson is ready to keep pushing forward and making the best of everyday.
One of those days is coming up here soon as Anderson is heading a Valentine’s Day table where students can buy a candy bar for their loved ones and choose a love song for the ASL club to sign. They will be starting this on Feb. 13 in the Student Center Inner Link from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Anderson has high hopes for the event and hopes that people will see ASL for the beautiful language that he believes it is.