Penn Global Week Meaningful Partnerships: Connecting Global Communities

January 29, 2021
By Penn Abroad

Connecting students with global communities through international experiences has been central to linguist Dr. Jami Fisher’s work in the Department of Linguistics and American Sign Language program. In her course, Disability Rights and Oppression: Experiences within Global Deaf Communities, which was first offered as a Penn Global Seminar (PGS) in spring 2019, students traveled to Italy at the culmination of a semester studying global deaf communities, Italian Sign Language, and the fight for national recognition of sign language in Italy. Fisher’s plan to offer the course and travel with students to Italy again this academic year shifted as the pandemic halted travel. Despite this disappointment, it did not stop her focus on bringing people from different places and backgrounds together in order to learn, collaborate, and form meaningful partnerships. 

When first considering how to translate the international component of the course to an online format under the PGS-COIL model during the spring 2021 semester, Fisher struggled with how to bridge the language barrier between hearing students, deaf students, partners from Italy, and across the globe. It would be a difficult question in the best of times, but adding Zoom into the equation complicated it even more. Fisher decided to leverage the benefits of technology in order to reframe these challenges as an opportunity to build more connections and deepen students’ understanding of the important ethical issues of disability rights within the deaf community worldwide. Through Fisher’s connections, Penn students are collaborating with Gallaudet University, an all-Deaf university in Washington, D.C. The parallel Gallaudet course, taught by Tawny Holmes Hlibok, is joining Fisher’s students in classes, discussions on common readings, and collaborative, project-based learning. Students will work in pairs to develop plans for advocacy within deaf communities; deaf students will be asked to respond to some of their lived experiences while hearing students will develop the skills to become allies in support of that effort.  

This partnership with Gallaudet also offers greater opportunity for comparison as the classes discuss legal rights and deaf experiences in the United States while engaging with Italian community members who will give presentations, lectures, and Q&A sessions. Italy is one of only two EU countries that has not legally recognized its sign language and has seen a push for that legal recognition over the last decade as a path for justice and human rights. Aside from discussing law, theory, and policy, Fisher focuses on the everyday experiences of deaf community members. She investigates how that community’s struggles relate to social justice movements, asking questions, and considering the lived experiences of generations of oppression in a community.

Dr. Jami Fisher’s collaborative spirit and aim to continue to connect students as they study important global issues can be seen in her development of this course, and vision to expand opportunities despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Written by Jamie Nisbet, Penn Abroad Marketing and Events Manager
Top image by Jillian Cener, Penn Global Seminars Staff Leader, Spring 2019

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Penn Global Week is an annual event for the university to showcase the depth and breadth of cultural activity and global programming available across campus. This feature is part of a series dedicated to highlighting the global experiences and work of the students and faculty who make Penn global, and enrich Penn’s global engagement efforts.

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