Philosophy grad Bianca Verjee helps establish community among American Sign Language enthusiasts
By Michael Wu
SFU Philosophy student Bianca Verjee started her life at SFU with an interest in psychology. However, after exploring courses in psychology as well as computer science, linguistics, and cognitive science, she found herself drawn toward the philosophical aspects of those disciplines and pursued philosophy as a major for her BA program. Verjee says courses like PHIL 203: Metaphysics and PHIL 421W: Advanced Topics in Ethical Theory – Reasons and Rationality really sparked her curiosity. However, another side of the discipline solidified her switch.
“In philosophy people actually take the time to hear and fully understand the points of others before giving a reply. Argumentation isn’t about being right, or who speaks the most; it’s about finding the right answer together.”
Verjee explains that, during discussions with friends and family, she had frequently been told that she needed to be more assertive and would frequently be talked over and criticized for being too particular. However, in a philosophy classroom, she found the environment to be quite different.
“Philosophy is about truth and discovery,” she states. “I learned that good argumentation is about clarity and precision, and I was never criticized for being too particular.”
Finding her voice in philosophy was a revelation. Realizing that her biggest strengths were her patience and ability to teach, Verjee set her sights on becoming a philosophy professor, and began pursuing a minor in educational psychology to complement her degree.
Verjee’s affinity for education and languages also led her to take American Sign Language (ASL) classes, where she fell in love with the language and began to learn more about Deaf culture.
She was surprised to learn that SFU did not have an ASL club, and Verjee took it upon herself to start the SFU American Sign Language Club, where she strove to bring awareness of Deaf culture and to help students learn ASL.
“In our meetings, we watched videos to learn about Deaf culture and played games to practice communicating visually. I also arranged field trips to Deaf events in the community, such as the annual Deaf Deaf World event at Vancouver Community College!”
Verjee also helped create a community online by creating the Facebook group, “ASL Enthusiasts.” The group is very active and has over 200 members (the majority of whom are from the Greater Vancouver Regional District), and everyone is engaged in Deaf culture and learning ASL.
“The highlight of running the ASL club was sharing my passion for ASL with other students and being able to raise awareness about Deaf culture and the challenges faced by the Deaf community. I also gained valuable leadership skills,” Verjee says.
Verjee also spent time during her degree volunteering as a Writing and Learning Peer Educator at SFU. As a Peer Educator, Verjee worked with fellow students on their assignments, and helped them learn and practice strategies for academic success like study skills, note-taking, time management, exam preparation, and a variety of academic writing strategies.
“It was a challenging but very rewarding experience,” she says. “The appreciation expressed by the students I worked with and the look of relief when they received help with an assignment they were stressed about made this experience really meaningful.”
“It also provided me with a great boost of confidence to know that I will be a successful educator,” Verjee adds.
With a passion for teaching and her sights on a career in academia, Verjee will begin her MA in philosophy at UBC this fall, and says she looks forward to continuing her “fascination with philosophical ideas.” Verjee has already spoken at two philosophy conferences and has one journal article publication under her belt, with another on the way. She plans to continue engaging with complex ideas and looks forward to attending more conferences in the future.
When asked what words of wisdom she can offer new undergraduate students, Verjee maintains that patience is a virtue.
“Philosophy is a very complex subject that can be hard to wrap your head around. The readings are densely packed with ideas, and introductory classes are often a bit dry (though they are an important foundation).”
“However, once you get it and start exploring topics beyond the introductory material, the subject matter is truly fascinating, and you will gain skills in reading, writing, and argumentation that will serve you well in whatever you do in the future.”