By the look of her office in East Hall, Megan Wetzel, the community director of East and West Halls, is already popular in her first two months at Webster University. Door signs with “Megan” written sprinkle her office walls and door. But the paper that may matter most is the ABC’s of sign language that hang outside her office door.
As a fourth month old, Wetzel was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, which caused her deafness.
Wetzel said some of her Residential Assistants started picking up the ABC’s of sign language, but she isn’t sure the general student population knows she’s deaf.
“I think they think I’m foreign with an accent,” Wetzel said with a laugh.
The efforts by her Resident Assistants, she said, have been helpful during conversations. Christopher Robinson, a sopho
more human rights and public relations major, said he has gotten to a point where he can have a good conversation with her in sign language.
“I took the initiative because A, it would make it easier to talk to her and B, because it’s interesting,” Robinson said. “It’s pretty and a valuable skill. And if you sign something wrong she’ll show you the right way. She’s very supportive. If you’re going to learn it she wants you to learn it right.”
Wetzel also laughed as she looked at all the notebooks on her desk. When it is too hard to read lips or when someone can’t understand her, she writes down her thoughts in a notebook.
“If you just start talking and I don’t know what the topic is, it’s very hard to lip read,” Wetzel said.
John Buck, director of Housing and Residential Life, said working with Wetzel has changed his own preconceived notions about deaf culture.
“It’s been very enriching to have an insight on deaf culture and what that may be like,” Buck said. “She reinforces that there are differences in people, so I need to look inward to see what I’m projecting outward. Having Megan on staff has reinforced that for me personally.”
Buck, as well as Sarah Tetley, interviewed Wetzel at the Oshkosh Place Exchange, a job fair for those who want to work for Residential Life. Tetley remembers Wetzel’s ability to make connections during conversation.
Buck was not present for the first round of interviewing. When he spoke to Tetley before the second round of interviews, Buck recalls her telling him, “You’re going to like Megan.”
“From the minute she sat down in the chair she was engaging,” said Tetley.
For her entire life Wetzel said she wanted to be a teacher but couldn’t decide which age she wanted to teach. When she finally reached college, she found her favorite age group; Wetzel knew she didn’t want to leave college.
“My college experience was so amazing,” Wetzel said. “I wanted to go back.”
Wetzel received a B.A. in professional and technological communications and a M.A. in college student personnel, both from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
During her hiring process, Wetzel said she was never asked about being deaf. She was only asked what accommodations she would need if she was hired.
“The university was very accepting of my needs,” Wetzel said.
Her accommodations include a strobe light to signal for a fire or a ringing doorbell, a shaking bed, an interpreter for a meeting with more than three people and a videophone relay service for her phone calls.
“When someone calls my office, the call is forwarded to a video relay service. An interpreter will answer the call and attempt to connect with me through a video phone. The interpreter will relay the call in sign language and voice interpreter what I say in sign language,” Wetzel said.
Faculty members sometimes over exaggerate their body language to get a message across, Wetzel said. However, she said they never give up trying to have a conversation either, like strangers often do.
“Webster—they keep trying. They ask me what my preferred mode of communication is and it makes me feel like they care about me. It makes me feel welcome,” Wetzel said.
She said she must remind people to look at her when they talk and not to cover their mouths when speaking, otherwise she cannot lip read, a skill she learned at Santa Clara County’s Office of Education, in Santa Clara, Calif. The school also teaches sign language and speech.
“Sometimes I have to say, ‘Hey, I’m deaf, can you look at me when you talk,” she said with a smile.
As the community director, Wetzel supervises residents in East and West Hall, making sure students are happy members of the on campus community. She identifies and supports students’ needs to be successful.
“She is better than a lot of others in the field,” said Chris Rice, community director of WVA and Maria Hall. “She’s done amazing. She fits right in and students love her.”
Wetzel said she likes the connection she’s making on campus.
“I really like the environment here,” Wetzel said. “I like that students talk to me about their classes and personal life.”