ASL Instructors Hold Diversity Panel in Misciagna

By: Michelle Thompson
Photos: Marina Scipioni

Leslie Kelly and her ASL interpreter

On Wednesday, Nov. 1, Penn State Altoona hosted a Cultural Diversity Panel put together by two American Sign Language instructors, Ashley Bennett and Shasta Dreese. The panel was held in the Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts and consisted of four deaf professionals, each of whom came with an ASL or verbal translator for both the hearing and hard-of-hearing audience’s convenience.

The panelist shared their background, their experience as a partially or fully deaf individual, and their involvement in the workforce. Some shared experiences of being the only deaf employee in a “hearing” work environment, while others spoke of their time working with fellow deaf individuals in various settings. Those who did work in hearing environments elaborated on the difficulties they faced.

“[My radiology internship] didn’t accept that I needed an interpreter with me,” said first panelist Erica Kauffman, “they thought that would violate HIPPA and confidentiality… so I ended up quitting.”

Panelist Leslie Kelly told the story of how she went from being partially deaf to profoundly deaf quite suddenly in the middle of her work day. Not knowing sign language or having an interpreter, she too had to quit because her position required her to take phone calls and interact with clients.

ASL instructor Ashley Bennett sharing her backstory

However, all four spoke of how they eventually found success and satisfaction in fields that helped fellow deaf individuals in professional or educational settings. Several of the panelists explained the importance of expanding resources and services to more than just those in the immediate community. During the Q&A session at the end of the panel, Erica Kauffman spoke on how the the education system can work to integrate deaf resources into the hearing world.

“American Sign Language is one of the top three most used languages in America,” said Kauffman, “so why don’t students and parents get together and propose to the board that maybe they have ASL as a foreign language in high schools?”

The panelists also had some personal stories and comical misunderstandings they encountered. Leslie Kelly shared a story about how her son tricked her into letting him blast rap music with explicit lyrics as they drove to school in the mornings because she could only feel the beat of the music but not hear the words. Kelly said it wasn’t until she realized she was getting dirty looks from the crossing guard that she investigated further and made her son listen to different music in the mornings.

Ashley Bennett shared what she said was an equally comical but mortifying experience when she bought a necklace in the mall and was chased down by mall security (which caused a big scene) because the cashier forgot to remove the security tag and Bennett didn’t even know the alarms had gone off when she left the store.

Audience members got to talk to the panelists after the Q&A session

The panelists agreed that while these types of mishaps were funny to look back on, they still contributed to an internalized insecurity about their deafness that can affect a deaf person’s self esteem.

Amongst the audience were the students of panelist Ashley Bennett’s Intermediate Signing course at Saint Francis University. After the Q&A session, these students were encouraged to practice their ASL skills with the panelists or any other deaf members of the audience. In addition, all audience members had the opportunity to come up to the panelists and ask further questions or just chat.


Pro-Trump Rally Speaker Invites “Black Lives Matter” Protesters On-Stage, Result Was Unexpected

On Sep. 16, 2017, several hundred people gathered at Washington D.C.’s National Mall for what the event organizers called “The Mother of all Rallies” (MOAR). According to the rally’s website, the event was held as a display of patriotism, unity amongst all Americans regardless of political party or race, and support for the current president. In a public YouTube recording of the event, however, when activists/protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement appeared, the atmosphere became audibly hostile—that is, until one of the speakers invited the protesters on-stage.

Self proclaimed “black patriot” Henry Davis was about to speak when he not only encouraged the audience to let the protesters join the crowd, but then invited them on-stage to “show them what patriotism is about.” MOAR organizer Tommy Gunn then announced that they would give “BLM New York” President Hawk Newsome the microphone for two minutes to get his message out to the public as a pro- Freedom of Speech gesture.

“Whether [the audience] disagrees or agrees with your message is irrelevant. It’s the fact that you had the right to have the message, just like all them have the right to their message,” said Gunn before handing over the mic.

Screenshot from footage of BLM NY President Hawk Newsome on-stage at the MOAR. Full video in link below.

Newsome’s message of love for the country, and yet a deep desire to fix the racial injustice present in it, was met with a mix of claps, boos, cheers, and heckles. His statements about not being “anti-cop” but rather “anti-bad cop” warranted some especially mixed reviews, but after clarifying that BLM supporters “do not want handouts,” but simply their right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,”the heckles were replaced with applause. Newsome concluded his time with the sentiment that Americans should strive to accomplish such a task together, not separately, sounding coincidentally reminiscent of the rally’s “united, not divided” mission statement.

Despite scattered cries of opposition, after he had said his piece, the crowd applauded and let him peacefully leave the stage. In a video interview from “NowThis News” that followed the turn of events, Newsome shared his appreciation for the opportunity for both sides to humanize each other.

“I feel like two sides that never listen to each other actually made progress today,” he commented. “If not on a grander level but just person to person, I think we really made some substantial steps.”

During the remainder of the rally, the BLM activists stayed and spoke to MOAR participants, exchanging ideas and differences in opinion — an outcome drastically contradictory to previous instances where opposing sides of the political spectrum come in contact. Video evidence exists of both Trump campaign rally participants being encouraged by Trump to remove and silence opposition — violently if necessary, as well Trump opposers and supporters getting into verbal and physical altercations due to their conflicting viewpoints. But this video showed quite a different outcome. In addition to civil conversations, Newsome was also approached by rally attendees asking to take pictures with them. One of the MOAR attendees Newsome was approached by was a “Bikers for Trump” leader. After hearing Newsome’s speech, the man asked Newsome to take a picture with him and his son, which Newsome said was another pleasant surprise.

“Here I went from being their enemy, to someone they wanted to take pictures with their children. And that’s the power of communication,” said Newsome. “We came out, we were gonna chant, we were gonna do a demonstration, but we didn’t have to. We just spoke. And it worked…and I’m happy about that.”

Screenshot of Hawk Newsome with unnamed “Bikers for Trump” member and son Jacob from “Now This News” video. Full video in link below.

Information for Newsome’s interview retrieved from “NowThis News”

Full video of Newsome’s speech at MOAR

For more information on the rally, visit

For more information on the BLM movement, visit

PSU Altoona Students Spend Earth Day 2017 ‘Marching For Science’

No amount of rain could stifle Earth Day enthusiasm as 10 of our own Penn State Altoona students—along with several PSUA faculty members, thousands of other science advocates, environmentalists, and the King of Science himself (Bill Nye) — took to the streets of D.C. for the “March for Science” on Saturday, April 22nd.

After multiple early morning teach-ins at the National Mall, several speakers and a musical performance near the Washington monument to hype up the crowd, the group of Altoona student activists were ready to make history. The march lasted only two hours, but made some serious waves, being joined by thousands of satellite marches held simultaneously throughout the United States and around the world.

In the wake of the multitude of comments and actions from the Trump administration regarding climate change, environment-related regulations, and science program funding, outrage and concern has increasingly swept the scientific and environmental communities. From calling climate change “a hoax made by and for the Chinese,” to vowing to repeal the Paris Climate Agreement, to budget proposals mentioning double-digit budget cuts to organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), President Trump has not established himself as much of an ally to environmentalism. Those who have, however, took it upon themselves to fight for what they felt needed advocacy, bringing some pretty clever signs and costumes with them to help make their point.

YouTube’s ‘Restricted Mode’ Causes Outrage from the LGBTQ Community

Alleged ‘Discriminatory’ Feature Sends Creators Scrambling to Smooth Things Over

For some time now, the Internet’s most popular video-sharing website, ‘YouTube,’ has offered a feature called ‘Restricted Mode,’ which allows users to set the website to a viewing mode that limits which content can and cannot be seen. The feature was initially created to facilitate a “kid friendly” version of the site that did not include “mature” or explicit content.

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