May 112010
 

By Johnny Hart

Collegian Special Report

Mandy Harvey embraces her fiancé, Greg Bland, near Harvey’s parents’ residence in Longmont. Harvey, who studied music at CSU in 2006 and 2007, developed a devastating illness during her time here that left her without her sense of hearing. Unable to complete her coursework and mired in a deep depression, she left. But since, she’s moved on to have a widely successful music career, producing an album. She and Bland will marry at the end of this month.

Less than three weeks from today, Mandy Harvey will stare down the aisle of the LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, looking at her soon-to-be husband Greg Bland. The wedding, set for May 29, will be just another chapter in Harvey’s life.

But just four years ago, the rising northern Colorado jazz vocalist stood looking at a darker, more confusing crossroads.
Then a CSU freshman, Harvey spent the first months of her spring semester slipping into silence until her hearing finally “pooped out” in February 2007.

The budding music education major had gone deaf, a fate she’d faced since her first diagnosis the previous September.
As her disability surfaced, Harvey was launched into one of CSU’s least visible minority groups: students with disabilities.

About 1,000 students on campus have a disability, but only about 500 have visited the offices of Resources for Disabled Students, said director Rose Kreston. The number of students, however, may be higher because students may not report their disabilities –– some don’t even know they have one.

Harvey had unwillingly become a part of one of CSU’s diverse communities. But her circumstance was unique itself, as her situation was “unprecedented” for the CSU music department that housed her, said former CSU professor and Harvey’s longtime voice teacher Cynthia Vaughn in an e-mail.

“Everyone took a wait-and-see approach until the end of the year, and as Mandy’s world became silent, she was advised by a somber faculty … that she would need to pursue a degree which was not heavily dependent on hearing skills,” Vaughn said.

Harvey’s situation is an extreme example of the harsh realities that disabled students –– indeed, students in all minority groups –– face.

With mix of personal devastation and a music curriculum that could not accommodate her loss of hearing, Harvey would leave CSU, her dreams of graduating with a music degree shattered.

Losing an uphill battle

For the final months of her freshman year at CSU, Harvey had slipped into a deep depression, often not leaving her Allison Hall dorm room for days at a time.

“When Mandy lost her hearing rapidly over her few months of college, she was devastated. Her hearing continued to deteriorate weekly, so that one week she could hear a professor well enough to keep up with the course and the next week she could not,” said Vaughn, who worked as a voice professor at CSU during Harvey’s time on campus.

Vaughn said Harvey had been “admitted to a highly selective program” at CSU with only 15 freshman vocal students “in a degree that is based in large part on hearing.”

Harvey, who calls herself a “firm believer in God” and who never swears, cursed to the heavens.

“The first time I ever cursed in my life was during my funk at CSU,” she said. “One day I was just so pissed off, I just was like ‘F you, God.’”

Once her hearing completely went, Harvey’s parents wanted to bring her home. But she stayed, determined to finish the semester, which Harvey would struggle with mightily.

“The last couple months of school I didn’t really do that much. I kind of got really depressed and locked myself in my room for two weeks,” she said.

Only making her problems worse, she said she’d neither remembered nor heard of any other deaf vocalists, especially ones going to school for vocal performance or education.

Issues with her classes arose earlier in the semester, when she returned from winter break to a music-intensive course load.

In music theory, Harvey said she could not do dictation –– the process of hearing a played note, and, without looking at the instrument, recognizing its value.

“I couldn’t see how dictation and listening to the piano was so huge (compared to) most things I could have done with theory class,” she said. “And it wasn’t able to be catered in any way.”

Without a different accommodation, Harvey said she would fail the course as dictation accounted for 40 percent of the class grade.

Too, Harvey said she was not able to take another course, music history, because she could not listen to and recognize pieces composed by different artists in different eras of music.

She later added, “Again, I think there is a lot of music history that I could have learned without any sound at all.”

Because of her situation, both Harvey and Vaughn said professors in the department formed two camps: those who expected Harvey to be OK and do the work load without issue, and those who questioned Harvey being in the department and advised her to drop her courses.

Harvey said she became frustrated with both sides because neither was helping her address her loss of hearing.

“Since there was no precedent for a music student becoming deaf, some professors under-reacted (expecting her to keep up with all lectures and assignments) while others overreacted (advising her to drop all of her music classes),” Vaughn said. “Both responses were extreme, but Mandy herself was figuring out what her own limits were on a day-to-day basis.”

Harvey said: “When you have a situation where neither party really understands how to deal with the situation, it’s not good, and it seems horribly unfair to both sides. I don’t want to say something that would make it seem like I hated (the music department) because they just didn’t understand what to do.”

Despite one professor advocating to alter the music theory course without dictation as Harvey was becoming acclimated to her condition, learning American Sign Language, Harvey was dropped from the class, which she said she happened after a conversation and without her consent.

“You get a system that’s so used for so many years, and you have a person that doesn’t fit the mold, and they can’t figure out how to shove you into that mold instead of trying to reshape,” Harvey said.

And though she said she wouldn’t have been in the right “emotional place” to continue with music education, Harvey would have taken on a larger homework load or some other compromise to pass the course.

“I never signed any papers to end that class,” Harvey said. “I was overwhelmed, I was seriously depressed and I pretty much gave up with that class. So it ended up being the best move to not be there.”

The Collegian was not able to determine whether a teacher dropped Harvey from the course because class records are protected by federal rules for student privacy rights, but department chair Todd Queen said teachers don’t have that ability.

“A teacher cannot drop a student from a class. The student only has that ability,” Queen said in a phone interview. “Mandy would have had to drop that class on her own. We can give them a grade, but teachers cannot drop students from a class.”

Queen, who was a voice teacher during Harvey’s senior year, said Harvey’s situation never escalated beyond her and her professors.

“(Harvey’s) situation never went to the departmental level, so I’m not sure that the department really has anything official to say on the matter. We certainly are proud of the accomplishments that Mandy has achieved and wish her much success,” Queen said in an e-mail.

Queen and his colleagues were more involved in “helping Mandy on an individual level.”

RDS director Kreston said no university department lawfully has to make accommodations for students who are disabled if they determine the student to “unqualified” to do the coursework.

“It’s possible that some people think that she can’t teach (music),” Kreston said.

Harvey agreed.

“I would want do something that I could feel confident in doing 100 percent of my job,” Harvey said. “For education in music, to be fair to (students), you need to be able to hear. You need to be able to correct them. You need to be on top of your game. And I can’t do that for them.”

Harvey said that though she was partly upset that she couldn’t finish her schoolwork in four years, part of her is happy because that’s not where she was supposed to be.

“Part of (me) was like, ‘I paid for that education, and you didn’t get it.’ The other part of me was like, ‘What would I have expected them to do, give me my hearing back?’” Harvey said.

She added, “If (my situation) would have happened at any other school, it would have been exactly the same. Nobody knew what to do. So it’s not that I was pissed off at the people (involved), I was pissed off at the whole thing …”

Trying to keep the disabled going

CSU’s Office of Equal Opportunity is charged with “implementing, monitoring and evaluating programs, activities and procedures that support” access in the university’s “educational, scholarly and outreach activities,” according to the office’s website.

Roselyn Cutler, the interim director of the OEO, said the university is far and away above its peers in those areas and its resources for students.

“I think we do very well in accommodating students. I think we’ve always been ahead of the curve in accommodation,” Cutler said, adding, “We can usually find an appropriate and reasonable accommodation (for students).”

Along with OEO, CSU offers assistance for disabled students through RDS, which collaborates “with students, instructors, staff, and community members to create useable, equitable, inclusive and sustainable learning environments,” and the Assistive Technology Resource Center, which “ensures equal access to technology and electronic information for Colorado State University students and employees with disabilities,” according to their websites.

“It blows me away, the amount of resources we have (at CSU),” Cutler said.

In her 30 years on campus, Kreston only remembers one case in which a student took the university to court over access and resources, and she said the university won.

Cutler, who said about one complaint a month from disabled students comes through OEO, said most grievances filed by students or professors to her office are a result of a break in communication.

“Oftentimes the problem is a lack of understanding of the amount of resources and what we are able to do,” Cutler said.
Harvey, who did not file a grievance, did utilize the university’s interpreters but found a communication breakdown.

Sometimes, she said, interpreters would have a hard time keeping up with both the lecture and students asking questions, and there was a “huge gap” between “horrible” interpreters and “great” interpreters. Too, Harvey felt mocked by her fellow students because she needed an interpreter.

“I want something that caters to me so I don’t feel stupid when I’m sitting in classes,” Harvey said, later adding, “I think the whole thing is flawed.”

In Harvey’s music courses, interpreters were especially unable to help communicate topics to her.

Vaughn said, “In Mandy’s case this assistance was of limited help because she had not yet learned ASL, and lecture note-takers were not enough for her to keep up in highly specialized classes such as music theory.”

According to the book “Raising and Educating a Deaf Child,” graduation rates for deaf students at four-year universities is about 30 percent, compared to 70 percent among their hearing peers.

Harvey’s fiancé Greg Bland, who is also deaf, said this is because of “communication breakdowns.”

Bland used the example of a friend learning the word “hubris” in his humanities course. When the interpreter heard the word “hubris,” he signed “pride” –– the word’s definition. Because American Sign Language communicates in concepts, rather than long phrases with filler words like English, come test time Bland’s friend could not answer the question because it asked for the Greek word for “pride,” “hubris.”

“There’s a lot of information pieces that are dropped out,” Harvey said. “… The interpreter doesn’t use English vocab. They use ASL language. It has its own grammar, its own language.”

Like Harvey, Bland felt a break in communication when he attended CU-Boulder. After flunking out of his first go around at CU, Bland came back and “challenged the system” by asking for everything to be written out, everything spoken to be in print.

“(Getting everything in text is) something that, when I go back to finish my degree … I’m going to demand,” Harvey said, “because if everybody who has their hearing is benefitting from all the information and I’m not, I shouldn’t be paying the same tuition.”

Harvey and Bland also suggested professors could create two lecture plans when needed, one for hearing students and one for hearing impaired students, along with adding more office hours, but both said they thought these changes may not be feasible.

In the future Harvey hopes to return to a university, though she doesn’t believe any programs are ready to accept a deaf vocalist yet. But for now she’s working on her wedding –– and her music.

Her debut vocal jazz album, “Smile,” dropped last fall, and she frequently plays Jay’s Bistro in Old Town. With two more albums in the making, Harvey’s well on her way to creating five albums before she turns 30.

But she takes life day by day, practicing her speech every morning and focusing on remembering what she once could hear.

“I could wake up tomorrow and not remember how to do everything that I do now. Once I can’t remember, it’s gone,” she said. “So I just want to do as much I can now, and then when I have grandkids I can be like, ‘This is what I did. That’s me. Wasn’t I awesome? Hell, yeah!’”

Managing Editor Johnny Hart can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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