More than 40 participants gathered at Gallaudet on Nov. 4 for an Interpreting Students of Color (ISOC) Summit. It was the first group event for this community since the start of the COVID pandemic, according to Assistant Professor Dr. Pamela Collins, ’07, G-’11 & PhD ’20, who was thrilled to see folks come from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, as well as other states. 

Several attendees drove for hours so that they could be surrounded by students, professors, mentors, and community partners who look like them, notes Dr. Folami Ford, G-’05 & PhD ’21, an interpreter in the Office of the President. “Over 25 years ago when I attended my interpreter training program, I was the only student of color in my program. It is concerning that in 2023 there are still students that are navigating their educational journey as the only person of color in their program,” she says. “The experience of being ‘the other’ or ‘the only’ can be one that is both challenging and frustrating.”

Coming together makes these students feel less isolated, and encourages them to reach out when they need support, adds Collins, a former president of the D.C. chapter of the National Alliance of Black Interpreters (NAOBI). Even if they are not studying or working at Gallaudet, she wants them to be able to tap into the resources they need. “It is important that we see each student, regardless of their university affiliation, as the next generation of interpreters. The classroom is not the sole answer for knowledge, skills, and practice — community connections, mentors, and practice outside the classroom is imperative.” 

Four Black interpreters —three women and one man — smile while standing by a tree. Each of the women's shirts has a different message: "Interpreters of Color Rock," "Interpreter Educators Rock," and "Black Interpreters Rock."
The planning committee for the Interpreting Students of Color Summit held at Gallaudet included (from left to right) Folami Ford, Pamela Collins, Paris McTizic, and Nicole Shambourger.

The program was structured to provide intentional opportunities to network, socialize, and focus on skill development. “First and foremost, the students got an opportunity to just be themselves. To be welcomed into a space and to instantly know that you belong because you see yourself reflected in the room is uplifting and affirming,” says Ford, part of the planning committee for the ISOC Summit, along with Collins, Krystal Butler, G-’18, Paris McTizic, ’17 & G-’20, MJ Jones, E-’19, and Nicole Shambourger, an adjunct for Gallaudet’s Interpretation and Translation programs.

Participants were invited to engage in an impromptu practice session and take in a panel featuring deaf and hearing individuals. “Often students don’t have the opportunity to work with deaf interpreters and gain deaf community perspective,” Collins adds.

Several professional interpreters who were once in these students’ shoes came to offer their support. “We have stood on the shoulders of many and want to pay it forward,” Shambourger says. “I feel like it gives them the ‘I can do this because they did’ spirit. If their tank is empty, it gives them the fuel they need to continue running the race.”

For Collins, it brought back memories of 1998, when Dr. Jackie Bruce, G-’94, picked up Collins and other interpreting students at Georgia Perimeter College to take them to the first NAOBI conference in South Carolina. “We walked in to see over 200 faces like ours,” she says. “I cried! It’s how I got my nickname — crybaby.”

Catonsville Community College (CCBC) will host the  ISOC Summit 2024 in the spring. Gallaudet Interpretation and Translation adjuncts Su Isakson, Jones, and Shambourger are in the early planning stages, adds Collins, who is excited that all presenters, panelists, and the planning team will be representative of the audience.

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