KOKOMO, Ind. — The Kelley Student Center Commons buzzes with conversation and activity during the lunch hour most days. But on Tuesday, September 24, there was not one voice to be heard, as the Indiana University Kokomo campus observed a silent lunch.
The hour challenged students to think about the difficulties deaf people face, and what can be done to accommodate them, as part of Deaf Awareness Week.
As usual, students gathered at tables to eat their lunches and study — just without the usually conversations. Many wrote notes on napkins to communicate with each other. Some even tried sign language, using the manual alphabet printed on placards on each table. The sounds of the Cougar Country Café cash drawer, and of footsteps, were nearly the only sounds.
Mercedes Smith, a freshman from Sharpsville, already knew some sign language, and learned more from Vinny Vincent, assistant director of financial aid, who sat at her table to teach her. As a future nurse, she said it is important for her to learn some sign language, and also to be aware that not everybody can hear.
"Any field you go into, you may have to communicate with people who can't hear," she said. "I think we take it for granted that everybody can hear, but that isn't always the case. I thought this was interesting."
Also practicing some sign language was Drew McCombs, a sophomore from Flora. His cousin is deaf and read lips, but McCombs would like to learn more sign language to make communication easier.
"We don't always think about what we might do to include someone who is deaf, because you don't notice them," he said. "There is no outward sign of deafness. This makes us all more aware of their needs."
Food service staff participated as well, taking lunch orders on paper, and using paper signs to ask questions like "white or wheat bread?" during the lunch rush.
Maria Ahmad, coordinator of student life and campus diversity, anxiously watched to see if people would participate, and was very pleased with the response.
"The goal is to help students become more aware and more cognizant of what a certain population may go through every day, and whether or not they are truly being accommodated," Ahmad said. "I hope the silent lunch started conversations afterward. It is important to provide that platform for students to start talking and thinking about diversity."
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.