Photo Credit: Student spotlight of Renca Dunn signing
Mon, 03/20/2023 - 12:01

Fighting stigmas around Deaf identities keeps Renca pretty busy.

The PhD candidate, classroom instructor, influencer and high school cheer coach channels the pride she feels in her identity as a Deaf woman into all facets of her life, especially in her research in the @unlcommdept Communication and Identity Lab.

“Communication is the number one thing we need in our life — we communicate for information, to express our thoughts and feelings, and to learn about other people. Communication allows us to feel connected to our identity.”

Renca’s work looks at how communication shapes our experiences, particularly those in the Deaf community.

“One of my projects is looking at the need for Deaf identities and cultures to be recognized and valued,” says Renca of her project “Deaf or Death: The Story of Robin,” inspired by the story of a Deaf woman who was denied access to a sign language interpreter when hospitalized.

“We need the same things as anyone else, but my specific communication needs and resources are different than what you might need — often people don’t recognize that.”

Engaging with local Deaf Clubs is another important aspect of Renca’s work and advocacy.

“Deaf Clubs are a hotspot where Deaf people get together to exchange information. We host events, birthday parties, and all kinds of things. With any marginalized community, you can’t sleep on what’s happening — Deaf Clubs give us spaces to meet, share stories, and discuss disability rights.”

Renca is also passionate about working with Deaf youths, recently co-coaching the Iowa School for the Deaf’s cheerleading squad to win the Great Plains School for the Deaf cheer championship.

“Because Deaf people are so stigmatized, many Deaf children grow up feeling isolated – like they wish they weren’t Deaf,” says Renca, stressing the importance of sign language access.

“When Deaf kids go to these schools, they feel at home and meet Deaf adult role models that help them build confidence in their identities so they can go out and be proud of who they are.”