Last fall, more than 60 students piled into the Java Barn café and collected headphones for a silent rave. It is very likely that, for the first time ever at St. Lawrence University, the Java Barn was open, but completely silent.
Silent raves, silent discos, and silent clubbing have emerged over the past two decades as entertainment for everyone. Event organizers distribute individual headsets tuned into one or more DJs on a variety of radio frequencies to host a “quiet event,” forcing participants to find alternative ways of communicating and navigate social interactions without verbal speech.
The Club of American Sign Language (CASL, pronounced “castle”), with the help of the Thelomathesian Society, the Java theme house, and the Department of Anthropology, sponsored the event. Andrea Travis-Millet ’21 and Kira Delhagen ’21, co-vice presidents of CASL, explain that the main purpose was first and foremost to gain some recognition for the new club. Even though St. Lawrence does not currently have a deaf community, the CASL leadership wants the campus to “experience not being able to hear what everyone else hears, to get a taste of what it is like not to be part of the hearing world.”
“Visual languages like ASL,” says Delhagen, “offer a very different communication experience than auditory ones, and it’s really fun to explore that.”
Travis-Millet chose to get involved after spending time with her cousin, who is deaf. “I want to continue expanding on the fun experiences I took part in thanks to my cousin,” she says. “While we can’t gain the same experience here at St. Lawrence because of the absence of deaf culture, we have a lot of fun using our resources trying to bring deaf culture here.”
CASL hopes to educate students and the campus and open up conversations about deafness as a way of experiencing the world instead of as a disability. Travis-Millet and Delhagen are also hoping the group can engage with deaf communities in the surrounding areas. Their goal is to show students ways to be open to different expressions and perspectives on language.
“I have a general fascination with languages and how they relate to culture, and sign language (and deaf culture in general) was something I had very little prior knowledge about,” says Delhagen. “I think, more than anything, it’s fun.”
CASL’s first silent rave was the start of something much bigger, according to Travis-Millet and Delhagen. “I tell students,” says Travis-Millet, “join to learn a manual language and that could change the way you view the world.” By bringing awareness to the experiences of the deaf community, even in small ways, they hope it will result in making St. Lawrence a place where all experiences are welcomed with open arms.