“Northridge—Where the Deaf Join the Mainstream,” Ensign, Oct. 1980, 78
It’s the only university of its kind in the world—a school where hearing students, deaf students, and even deaf-blind students all study together. And the Institute of Religion at California State University at Northridge is unique, too.
There classes are taught for deaf students; there deaf students mingle and learn with hearing students. And there missionary work is an important aspect of the institute program—particularly missionary work among the hearing-impaired.
“Having deaf and hearing students mainstreamed together in education and having us participating in the hearing world, we learn much better,” says deaf student Diane Russo of Palo Alto, California.
That mainstreaming at the institute began in 1972, when a class for deaf students was offered. The class has now been expanded to three classes. Many deaf adults from the community attend one of the classes held in the evening. In addition, a seminary class for the deaf has been started at Riverside School for the Deaf. And the Fullerton Branch has begun a home-study seminary for the hearing-impaired.
David Perkins, a deaf graduate student who has considerable vision impairment, says the institute “has greatly helped my spiritual growth, because it has given me peace of mind and a positive outlook.” He explains, “I have gained the wisdom I need to manage my life from the teachings of the gospel.” Those teachings have “inspired me to do better in my studies at CSUN.”
His bishop and institute teacher, Samuel H. Judd, is bishop of the San Fernando Valley Ward for the Deaf. Bishop Judd—one of several Latter-day Saints who have worked in establishing and running programs for the deaf in the area—has been instrumental in the conversion of some 150 deaf persons in about twenty years.
The deaf program at the institute “helped me prepare for my mission four years ago, and it helps me to maintain my testimony,” says deaf student David Neuman, a returned missionary who graduates from the university this spring and who plans to attend graduate school at Northridge.
Students at the institute—both deaf and hearing—are active in missionary work. Missionaries often plan firesides, to which hearing and deaf students invite friends from the campus. Captioned films are often shown at the firesides. Also, students from the institute frequently take visitors to the Los Angeles Temple Visitors Center, invite them to home evening groups, or bring them to the institute for luncheons.
It’s part of our responsibility as students to do our missionary work and to share the gospel,” says Brother Norman Shipley, a deaf student. “Also, it’s important to bring nonmembers to institute classes.”
The students themselves are the best missionary tool, says Jack Rose, one of their teachers. “They are all fantastic examples of what Mormons believe in. You can feel the spirit that’s among them. It’s very obvious.”
They credit their deafness with helping them accept the gospel. Many of the Northridge Institute deaf students are converts, and they recognize the blessings that can come through the challenge of deafness.
“Maybe deafness is a blessing in this earth life that helps us accept the gospel,” says Patty Carmel of Northridge. “Maybe without my deafness I could never have accepted it.”
“Being deaf has really helped me to grow,” says Heidi Schaetze of Long Island, New York. “It’s helped me to overcome many problems—and to perfect ourselves is a desire all of us have. God has given everybody different problems. We just have to learn through our experiences, and these handicaps are part of ours.”
Sister Cannel adds, “If God hadn’t given us the challenge of being handicapped, maybe we wouldn’t be happy like we are now.
And happy they are. As the deaf and hearing students intermingle in playing ping-pong, in studying, in missionary work, they share their happiness. They seem unafraid to give abundant love—through smiles and conversation—to newcomers as well as old friends.
To further develop that sharing, many hearing students at the institute learn sign language. The institute has offered classes in sign language, but some students study it at the university.
“They just open up and really share with us,” says Sister Russo of her hearing friends at the institute.
Together they work toward individual goals. Brother Neuman, for example, would like to become an institute of religion teacher. Brother Shipley has considered becoming a lawyer. Sister Russo hopes to become a counselor for the deaf and their families and friends. And—with a blush—Sister Schaetze explains that she hopes to become “a housewife.”
They make plans for even longer-range goals, too. Brother Neuman not only accepts the permanency of his deafness, but he appreciates it. “I myself prefer just to stay deaf the rest of this life and enjoy the unique experience of associating with these people,” he says.
And Sister Russo openly acknowledges the role the institute experience has in her future:
“It helps me know all of the things I need to prepare for,” she says.