This is the story of Amorita, a biracial Deaf youth who attended the Marie Philip School from the Learning Center for the Deaf [MPS-TLC] in Framingham, Massachusetts for five years prior to her family’s move to Florida. Amorita’s recollections include Black Deaf students being put into classes below their appropriate grade levels, moved back and forth from one class to another class, denied access to ASL (let alone Black ASL), and not being provided any opportunity to learn about Black Deaf culture.
Amorita also observed that white teachers would invest in white Deaf students, ensuring those students understood key concepts with various teaching techniques (i.e., signed ASL, role play, visual and kinesthetic supplements), and yet they would not do the same thing for BIPOC Deaf students. “There were very few Black and POC Deaf teachers,” Amorita said.
Amorita’s mother, Eva, is a biracial Deaf woman with a strong sense of Black culture and she was a TLC student for 12 years herself as well. “There weren’t really any Black teachers or administrators during my time either,” she reflected. “If there were any Black staff at all, they did not last beyond a few months. All those years, little has changed. I saw my daughter go through what I went through myself. Enough is enough.”
As if her daughter’s experiences were not already frustrating enough, Eva experienced barriers as a biracial Deaf TLC alumni parent: “I was told because I used to be a student there, it was a conflict of interest for them to communicate with me what was going on with my daughter at school.”
Both mother and daughter affirmed that TLC administration officials did nothing when they reported incidents of differential treatment during Amorita’s time there.
Some time after Eva publicly uploaded her daughter’s story on her personal Facebook page Sarah Glenn-Smith, TLC’s Chief Executive Officer, reached out directly to her with an invitation to join a private meeting and discuss suggestions for improvements. Eva questioned the authenticity of the invitation: “Why reach out now if she [Glenn-Smith] has seen a lot of students’ vlogs about the same situation for the past few years?”
When asked what improvements Amorita and Eva would want to see from the Learning Center for the Deaf, they listed the following:
- Increased hiring and retention of Black/POC Deaf teachers and teacher/classroom assistants
- Hiring and retention of Black/POC Deaf counselors and other behavioral health service staff
- Full access for Black/POC students with both ASL and written English
- Exposure to Black ASL and Black Deaf culture for Black Deaf students
- Put Black Deaf students in appropriate grade-level courses with placement stability throughout the school year.
A separate anonymous source brought it to our attention that in a private Facebook group named The Learning Center for the Deaf/Marie Philip School Alumni, the group administrators and/or moderators were removing videos and commentary that Black, Indigenous, and POC Deaf parents and alumni posted about their experiences and feelings.
Deaf Vee Journal contacted the Chief Executive Officer, Sarah Glenn-Smith, to find out more. “The TLC Alumni Facebook page is run by alumni officers who are elected by the alumni directly, and not TLC, where they set up rules of conduct for the page so that videos are removed if they list specific names or profanity. We do not control the alumni Facebook page, nor do we remove videos from it,” Glenn-Smith wrote in our e-mail exchange (she also provided a similar answer in a video call with us).
We investigated Glenn-Smith’s claim that she and her administration team is not involved in running the TLC Alumni Facebook group or the decision-making process to remove alumni videos. Our findings verified that at least six of the seven alumni officers for the TLC Alumni Facebook group–two administrators and four moderators–are actively employed with the Learning Center for the Deaf. In fact, one of the two confirmed administrators’ names is listed on the TLC’s administration team under their online faculty and staff directory. This is a clear conflict of interest. Nearly all, if not all, of the alumni officers are white or white-passing. The case that TLC alumni and employees are tone policing and silencing BIPOC Deaf stories is a pretty strong one.
Last week, the Learning Center for the Deaf posted a message on Facebook (shown as an image) that says: “We see you. We acknowledge you. Recently, there have been many stories posted on social media from current and former students of TLC. We thank and respect you for sharing your experiences. We will be hosting feedback sessions with a moderator in the near future where we invite your ideas for change and continue discussions on the work to be done.”
Glenn-Smith has asked for us to let our readers know that The Learning Center for the Deaf welcomes additional stories from current and former students, faculty, and staff. “How else would change happen? How else would we be able to learn of and appropriately address the issues that have occurred?” Glenn-Smith said.
We were informed that TLC is finalizing their strategic racial equity plan and will go public with the plan next week. Glenn-Smith intends to share all the work her administration has done with us, so stay tuned for a follow-up.
If you have a story you want to share, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook and send us a message. Video calls can be arranged.