This isn’t even about Gallaudet. This particular gem of news takes place nearly 400 miles away in an upstate New York university named Rochester Institute of Technology.
I’m talking about the RIT Student Government (SG) elections, which just concluded last week.
RIT’s students have just elected their first deaf SG president, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Sorkin. It’s truly a milestone for the deaf community at RIT. Let me explain a little here:
RIT Student Government has several affiliated major organizations, one of which is NTID Student Congress (NSC). That’s the organization that represents the interests of the 1,200+ deaf and hard-of-hearing RIT students and hearing students who attend NTID. That’s the one that’s always been run by deaf or hard-of-hearing students.
SG, on the other hand, is the boss of all student activity at RIT and represents all 15,000 RIT students (92% hearing). SG has had several deaf Student Senators in the past, but no deaf president or veep.
But why run for this position? She said, “I didn’t run to be President because there’s never been a deaf one before but mainly because I believe in the school. I own the colors. I live it.”
Lizzie is the first to make it to the very top. Think about it. A deaf person will be the face of the entire RIT student community. Fifteen thousand people.
“People are amazed that their president is deaf. But…why not? I’m a film student at RIT. I’ve been here for several years. I have hearing professors, hearing classmates, and so on.”
RIT’s Department of Access Services has already contacted her about assigning an almost-permanent interpreter to accompany her at official events. She will preside over weekly, almost daily meetings composed of mostly hearing people. In the next year, when the new $4.5 million CSD Student Development Center opens, the deaf community will be extraordinarily proud to see not one, but two deaf presidents (NSC and RIT) and a deaf Vice-President and Dean (Dr. Alan Hurwitz) officiating the opening day ceremonies.
“I realize that it’s unique, and that it’ll take some getting used to. For example, at convocation this fall when the freshman students and their families come, I’ll be there. I’ll be right up on stage and I won’t voice. My hands will fly and students will be astounded to see that their president is deaf. Immediately, right there, a bridge begins between two segregated communities,” she described.
RIT is a hearing university; anyone who disagrees doesn’t really understand how it works or has never been to classes there. Lizzie’s accomplishment is all the more noteworthy because she is clearly in the auditory minority there, but she also deserves it as she has proven to be a capable leader via her immediate past term as NSC President. Again, it’s a true milestone that every member of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community should be proud of.
Congratulations, President Sorkin!
EDIT: Check out the video clip from a local Rochester news station. It’s, of course, not captioned, but hey, signing people’s always nice to see.