American Sign Language interpreter
Delta Chi, William Woods University, 2007
Jessica Gabrian speaks with her heart, mind and hands. As a peace activist and an American Sign Language interpreter, she appreciates the power of communication in all its forms.
“By signing all the time and learning not to speak, I realize that sometimes it can be oppressive to use the voice as the only way to communicate,” says Jessica.
Working toward her master’s degree in American Sign Language interpretation at Gallaudet University, Jessica has lived in the minority—a person with hearing among a student population of mostly deaf and hard-of-hearing students. “This has been the best place for me to learn, but I’ve had to work to be recognized as a member of the group. Having a good attitude and respecting the culture of the deaf community has helped,” she says.
Those are qualities she learned as an Alpha Chi Omega. “Being a part of the sorority taught me how to communicate with others and how to work with different types of people,” she says.
Her decision to study sign language was, in her words, “fate.” As an undergraduate student at William Woods University, she was undecided about a major. That all changed when she went to a campus event and noticed a sign language interpreter.
“I saw this woman who had such a presence. Her hands were moving and her facial expressions were exaggerated but not excessive. She was providing this service, but she was doing it in such a professional way, it really made an impression on me,” says Jessica. The next day, she decided to see if there was an America Sign Language class offered on campus and was pleased to discover there was an entire program available.
Now that she’s completed her master’s degree, the next step is a job at Gallaudet as an interpreter. “Working as a sign language interpreter is a cognitively demanding job. The deaf deserve equal access to information, and it’s important to make your signing comprehensible and coherent.”
Jessica is quick to point out that she doesn’t view her work as helping the deaf. She’s learning to speak their language. But she is a strong believer in helping others, and her work helping the victims of domestic violence as an Alpha Chi Omega led her to take a special interest in the lives of women and children around the world, especially those in Darfur.
“In Darfur, rape is being used as a weapon. If a woman is raped, her husband abandons her and the children. She has nothing, no means to take care of herself or her children. It’s awful, and it’s something I can’t stand,” says Jessica.
Taking a stand against rape in Darfur
Outrage at the situation motivated Jessica to take action, raising money for awareness and urging elected officials in Missouri to divest in funding for Sudan. In the summer of 2007, her activities were filmed in a documentary series titled “Simple Acts of Peace.”
“It was a whirlwind. I didn’t even think what it would be like when I agreed to be part of the documentary series, but it was very intimidating to not only be filmed, but also to meet and speak with state legislators in Missouri about the situation in Darfur,” she says. “I learned a lot about myself. I learned I don’t give up. When I hit a wall, I find another way to get the message out.”
As a student at William Woods, Jessica was involved in the organization Peace Jam, and she met Noble Peace Prize-recipient Jody Williams, founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, at a Peace Jam conference. They’ve stayed in touch ever since, and Williams has become a mentor to Jessica.
“I’ve learned so much from her,” says Jessica. “I really believe in peace, but there is a danger of being perceived as being passive. She’s taught me how to be forceful in my communication without being confrontational. I am not passive. There are things I believe in that I will fight for. I hold on to what I believe in, and I speak up for what I believe in.”
Plans for a life of peace
As Jessica sets her sights on the future, some things are clear: a career as a sign language interpreter and plans to travel the world and to serve others as she’s doing it. Other parts are still a bit out focus. She’s contemplating the Peace Corps and someday owning her own business as a freelance sign language interpreter. She also wants a family. “I want to get married and have children, raise some Alpha Chis.”
“Being a member of Alpha Chi was the best part of college for me. I can’t put it into words. The community service and philanthropic work that was encouraged, it really affected me. It made me realize, ‘Okay, I am really fortunate. I can give some time.’”
The signs are clear that Jessica is going to give so much more than her time to change the world.