By Theresa Schliep
At this year’s Welcome Week speaker, there was not a chorus of audible claps, but rather a room full of people waving their hands in the air. That is because actor Nyle DiMarco, winner of “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing with the Stars” is deaf, and the shaking of hands in the air is the American Sign Language’s (ASL) method of applause.
On Sept. 1, DiMarco spoke about his time not only on the two aforementioned shows, but also his advocacy for the deaf community through the Nyle DiMarco Foundation and his other work.
Campus Actitivties Board (CAB) organized the event, and United Student Government, Residence Hall Association, CAB Lincoln Center, Active Minds, Commuter Student Association, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Office of Residential Life, Office of Disability Services and the Office of Counseling and Psychological Services sponsored it.
The welcome week speaker was also part of the American Age Lecture series, a committee on CAB’s executive board responsible for bringing “engaging” speakers to campus, according to CAB Executive President Stephen Esposito, FCRH ’17.
DiMarco, speaking with American Sign Language and an interpreter, said that the key to success is finding those traits which individualize oneself.
“I believe you have to embrace yourself,” DiMarco said. “Find your uniqueness, find cultural differences and embrace those in order to be successful in life.”
DiMarco also spoke about the normalcy of deafness in his life, as he grew up in a dominantly deaf family.
“Growing up, it was normal for us,” said DiMarco. “It was normal until I was in the hearing world.”
His transition from his family home to the world of “America’s Next Top Model”, who scouted him through social media, was difficult as he was not allowed a phone to communicate with other contestants.
However, those were not the first difficulties he encountered.
DiMarco spoke about his schooling, and how the first deaf school he attended tried to force hearing upon him.
“They were very focused on deaf people hearing,” DiMarco said. “They wanted us to learn to hear.”
This emphasis on hearing detracted from his ability to learn, especially when he was taken out of the class for additional speech therapy.
“I thought, ‘You’re taking 30 minutes to get a b sound, I can’t say it, I’m deaf, I can’t even hear it!,’” said DiMarco. “I was missing out of class every day, five days a week. My education was being ripped away from me.”
DiMarco’s education improved when he went to Austin, Texas, and attended the Texas School for the Deaf. They had both deaf teachers and non-deaf teachers, but all knew American Sign Language.
With this improvement, DiMarco decided to split his day between the Texas School for the Deaf and a public school in his area. He attributed this decision to his curiosity.
He said the change was shocking.
“Everything was so quiet,” said DiMarco. “My language was sign language, a physical noise, making noise with my hands. They were just sitting there and the teacher was just speaking.”
DiMarco said his activism for deaf children began when he met a deaf man who was taught how to speak, but was never taught American Sign Language.
“I want to teach the families of deaf children language, both ASL and spoken English,” said DiMarco. “Then they will never miss a thing.”
DiMarco said he wants to give deaf children access to education through sign language so that they have a safety net in the event that their spoken language fails.
Through it all, DiMarco never saw his deafness as a disability.
“My deafness isn’t a disability to me, it is an advantage,” he said. “My goal is to make life count. Find your community and identify with it.”
Esposito saw this event as an opportunity to encourage a more welcoming atmosphere at the university.
“As a club this year we are striving to put on programs that help to foster a more inclusive community at Fordham,” said Esposito. “Nyle’s message of embracing yourself and finding your abilities from your disabilities was one that I found particularly moving and I hope that the students that attended were empowered by his lecture.”
Fordham students said they appreciated DiMarco’s emphasis on identity.
“I think he is a great advocate to show that no matter what struggles people have to deal with, it is most important to be yourself,” said Cameron Gallagher, FCRH ’17.