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Singing by Signing: Ole Miss Handband flashmob


It was an ordinary day in the late spring semester. Students scarfed down their food and complained about finals, while others delighted in being one year closer to graduating. Suddenly, amid the normal ruckus, a lone girl started dancing to “Jai Ho.”

More and more people leaped from their tables and joined her dance. Soon the straggling eaters in the Union were all following the rhythm of “Jai Ho.” This was a successful flash mob account from two years ago. 

This year, Ole Miss had a 20-something-person flash mob perform inside the Union in a rather unprecedented way: All the singing was done in a different language. 

This language is gaining recognition as an important language to learn. It is not Spanish, Chinese or Italian, but rather American Sign Language (ASL).

Amid the crowds eating chicken sandwiches and nachos, the flash mob signed “We Are Young” by FUN and “Firework” by Katy Perry. Austin Wheeler, sociology sophomore, was one of the on-looking students at the Union.

“It was very interesting,” Wheeler said. “It wasn’t like any other Union Unplugged performances where people are singing and are sometimes really off-key. It was fun to watch this one. I definitely saw smiles in the crowd.”

And it was the Ole Miss Handband silently bringing those smiles to the crowd.

The Handband is a group of approximately 120 students who know or are learning ASL. Led by Corey Blount, the Handband president and president of the Mississippi Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, the band celebrated Disability Awareness Month by showing the students creative singing.

For students unaware of the specifics of how their deaf peers live, this was a peek into their lives: They love partying, they dance around the room acting out their favorite songs and they dress up and “set the world on fire, burn brighter than the sun.” In other words, they are no different their more hearing-inclined counterparts. The deaf do not want to be recognized as a people with a disability, but rather as individuals with a cultural identity.

“For the past two decades, the deaf had a civil rights movement to get recognized,” Blount said. “We wanted our language to be recognized as a legitimate language and the deaf society to be celebrated as a culture with traditions and history, just like the French and Spanish.”

Blount recalls his first time seeing sign language. He was a student in middle school, bemoaning his luck in English. 

“I really hated it. I was always horrible at English,” he said with a chuckle. 

Five deaf students came in and sat next to him; he was unaware of this until an older female walked in and began signing for them. 

“And the teacher was like, ‘Oh, class, here are some of your new classmates. They are deaf, so the interpreter will be joining me up here in assistance,’” he said. “Naturally, the entire class gawked at them. I couldn’t stop watching the interpreter.” 

And that was how a young Brandon native fell in love with ASL.

“It was the sign language that gave me a high grade in English that year,” Corey said with a grin. 

Those who truly love the language are invited to join the Handband at any time. New songs are continually being taught, and the Handband proudly expands in number with each performance. Handband activities include signing the National Anthem at the football games and actively working at banquets, conferences and local assisted facilities. 

For those looking to complete their core requirements in language at Ole Miss, ASL is a great and fun language to start. The grammar of ASL is akin to that of Japanese written dialect, and its movements and expressions are derived from French sign language.

If anyone is interested in joining the Handband or having the Handband perform, simply contact Rebecca Lowe at the University of Mississippi Speech and Hearing Center (662-915–7271). You can also drop by George Hall, where the Handband is part of communications sciences and studies.