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Throughout Women’s History Month, WFMY News 2 will be highlighting the life and work of some of the Triad’s best and brightest women who have broken barriers in their field. ‘Women of the Triad’ is a project intended to celebrate their accomplishments and their roles in our local history.
Jane Fernandes is not only the ninth president of Guilford College: She is the first deaf woman leading any American college or university that is not focused on the Deaf or hard of hearing.
But don’t let that derail you from what really matters, Jane would probably say.
The biggest barrier she faces in life is not that she can’t hear, it’s how the hearing perceive her because of her deafness.
“They think they know what it means to hear,” Jane said in an interview with WFMY News 2 digital reporter Laura Brache. “I have to work all the time to be clear I can do anything anyone can do.”
She says that in any supportive environment, she can prove her competency.
Guilford College has provided her just that.
"I have to work all the time to be clear I can do anything anyone can do"
Jane became the President of Guilford College on July 1, 2014 after spending six years at UNC Asheville.
Her career in academia began in graduate school at the University of Iowa where she taught courses in Comparative Literature while obtaining her doctorate degree.
“I was given two interpreters in each of my classes to help me and the students communicate,” Jane shared.
If you’ve never seen, met or heard Jane on campus or beyond, you may not know she can speak English as well as anyone else.
The interpreters help her understand what others are saying, but unlike most common American Sign Language communication, it is only one-way.
However, Jane still tends to sign when she speaks.
"I love teaching!"
Jane learned English when she was younger, being raised by a deaf mother who also learned English without ever hearing it.
She had an instructor, a language therapist trained to teach a deaf person to gradually speak as a hearing person could.
More than once during the interview, Jane mentioned the commitment it took to accomplish speaking so clearly.
"It was a total commitment. Total... Total!"
Jane remembers objects all over her house having labels with what they were followed by the phonetics.
“Everywhere I looked, something was written and the phonetics were there,” she said.
It was such a commitment, she says, that if she had to do it all over, she wouldn’t.
“Just teach me sign language and I’ll be fine,” Jane said laughingly.
Jane acknowledges that the attitude about deafness when she was younger— ‘pervasive’ she calls it— was different than it is today.
At Guilford, she says acceptance came quite easily.
“That’s the first time in my life, here at Guilford, that has been the case,” Jane shared.
She believes that on campus deafness is not the biggest thing about her and that one day she may not even be remembered as a deaf person.
But that won’t be her biggest accomplishment.
For Jane, her family is.
She explains how supportive her family is and that they all sign, her husband, and her two children.
Jane thinks that sign language helped her two children, Sean and Erin, communicate better with others and make them ‘great people.’
Since arriving at Guilford, Jane has implemented several new programs and has focused on developing the College not only through new buildings and restoration, but improving and strengthening the curriculum and by fostering greater community spirit.
‘Work hard’ is Jane’s message to young adults with facing any challenges today.
"If you work hard, if you do the best you can even if it’s not perfect, but you do your best every day, nothing will stop you."
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