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Deaf student strives for MFA

There is a person on campus many students have seen a lot. She walks by on the way to classes, sits at the other table in Kise and lives on campus in the dorms. But she’s more than an average college student —  beside her walks a service dog, because she is deaf.

Her name is Jennifer Phillips. She is working on her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. She hopes to graduate in December 2012. Through an email conversation, she discussed her very interesting life, what she thinks of our campus and how she got here.

Phillips already holds diplomas: a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing from Bemidji (Minn.) State University.

After finishing at Bemidji, Phillips was looking for a great masters program and thought that the program here at MSUM was exactly what she was looking for.

“Graduate school is a really different world: You take only your “major” material, it’s mostly long night classes and a lot of homework in between,” she said.

Since the MFA program has a small student population, a lot of them share the same classes and there are a lot of discussions that require participation from everyone, which could pose some difficulties for Phillips.

“Full-class discussions are tougher than usual for me because I need to track who’s talking and ask others to not overlap their speech or interrupt,” she shared. “Most of my classmates are really patient about that, which I appreciate very much. In turn, I do my best by their work.”

It goes beyond the classrooms too, living on campus gives her great access too.

“My favorite thing about MSUM has been the student body, the general atmosphere, the great cultural nights, Dragons After Dark,” she said.

Phillips is also in the new ASL Club on campus, and hopes to share more with students about the deaf community and deaf culture and to help teach more students ASL. MSUM is looking into adding an ASL certificate for students, Phillips said, which is vastly important in this growing area.

Phillips has encountered some problems with campus life, which is an ongoing struggle for her and the deaf community in the area.

“I love theater, but I can’t get interpreted theater without asking for it, or they don’t advertise it until the last minute,” she said. “I’ve not heard about any subtitles or captioned movies airing on the open screen. I can’t go out with friends to enjoy stuff for that reason.”

The dog seen walking beside Phillips is named Kajal. He is not just any dog; it’s up to him to make sure Phillips stays out of harm’s way.

“He makes me feel secure in my dorm room since he alerts to the door, microwave, fire alarm and generally people around me   ? — also traffic,” Phillips said.

Phillips shares a special bond with Kajal, who is a companion as well as her service dog.

“Who else would cuddle me when I’m feeling like a mile of country highway,” she said. “Who would cheer me up after a bad day by making me play fetch?”

As a deaf person, Phillips cannot address everyone, but she wanted to share a request:

“I can’t hear people say hello to me, so I love it when people wave at me instead. Also, while my service dog is cute, please make eye contact with me first and ask before trying to pet him off duty. Do not pet or interfere with him on duty inside any building or on the sidewalks. I’m sorry I have to say no, but it’s for our safety.”


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