Hear My Deaf Song*
Ask Corey Reutlinger if he’s extraordinary and he’d probably smile, shrug and wonder why anyone may think so.
A pure and applied mathematics major from Lexington, Neb., Corey loves art and writing poetry. He’s a lifeguard at a local swimming pool in the summer, and he volunteers as a youth mentor at a local elementary school. He’s an active member of Hastings College’s Campus Acquaintance Rape Educators (CARE), and he’s a top performer on the nationally ranked Hastings College Forensics Team.
And most people are surprised to learn that Corey is deaf.
Starting in the first grade, Corey learned to rely on his hearing aids and reading others’ lips when they spoke. The traditional classroom setting where the teacher often talks while facing the chalkboard has always been a challenge for Corey, but he hasn’t let that slow him down.
“It’s a funny issue being deaf,” Corey said. “It can be awkward for people, because sometimes they forget I am deaf. I want to break down that 'sound' barrier and break the stereotype that deafness is a disability. For me, deafness has never been a disability. It’s just a different way of living.”
Corey’s Program of Oral Interpretation, a speech which advocates for the Deaf culture and the Hearing culture to better recognize each other, earned a sixth-place standing at the American Forensics Association-National Individual Events Tournament (AFA-NIET) this April, and was among six forensic events that Corey qualified for nationals. He also earned a quarterfinalist standing in both Poetry and Prose Interpretation at the National Forensics Association Tournament (NFA) this year.
In competition, Corey performs for the judges a combination of speech, sign language and silent articulation to help promote a better appreciation of an understudied form of communication and the beauty of communicating through silence. He openly critiques oral privilege and directly challenges this type of ethnocentrism.
“I’m impressed by Corey’s desire to challenge speech team conventions that have been established through decades of competition,” said Dr. John Perlich, Hastings College Professor of Communication Arts. “Corey is teaching them that 'speech' is beautiful in a myriad of forms and that inclusiveness is possible. Speech team culture often implicitly gives privilege to those who literally use a voice for their message, and Corey’s participation is a challenge to the previously unstated boundaries for competitive speech. His message is personal, sincere and driven with emotional conviction.”
Dr. Perlich says he is especially impressed with Corey’s ability to overcome his difficulty hearing his own words, his enunciation and the quality of his voice in a room.
“I’ve worked with Corey frequently over the last two seasons and his growth as a speaker has been profound,” Dr. Perlich said. “He has never once used his physical limits as an excuse. In fact, I’ve learned that he enjoys being challenged and takes pride in overcoming adversity.”
Corey says his deafness has given him a unique awareness of his environment that he would never want to lose.
“Deafness has a unique quality to it. I see it as a gift,” Corey said. “I enjoy being a person who is hearing disabled and being able to speak without making it apparent that I can’t hear, and people enjoy watching it.”
When asked about Audism, the attitude that speaking is superior to signing, Corey dismisses the issue as another thing that won’t be getting in his way of achieving his goals.
“For me, I’m living within both the Hearing culture and the Deaf culture,” Corey said. “There’s a pride within the Deaf culture. As a minority culture, we are still able to integrate into the Hearing culture. In the Deaf culture, everybody is the same as in the Hearing culture. We are able to do the same things. We learn the same things. It’s just a different form of communicating. However, it’s a story that’s not told, that’s not discussed, even though a lot of us will lose our hearing some time in our lives.”
Corey plans to attend graduate school studying math and, hopefully, coaching forensics. He’s looking at several schools with an eye already set on Harvard or Northwestern.
*Hear My Deaf Song is a line from the poem Corey wrote for his speech. It, too, advocates for people to read the story and listen to the message within it.