Striving for Inclusive Excellence

Felicia McGinnis

Service. Opportunity. Cultural awareness. Social work major Felicia McGinnis ’20 cites these themes as she thinks about the positive impact Regis has had on her personal and professional development as one of only a handful of deaf students on campus. “The Regis community has not only played a huge part in my academic learning, but also in my overall growth as a person,” she notes. “The immense diversity in the Regis student body has allowed me to gain new perspectives that shaped my understanding of people and their place in our communities.”

Receiving the NYS Scholarship for Academic Excellence, which provides assistance to outstanding New York State high school graduates, allowed Felicia to attend Regis and have the valuable college experience she always aspired to in high school. She quickly came to appreciate her professors and the environments they create for open communication related to cultural awareness. “With the many identities represented at Regis, we are able to recognize the differences in people on a regular basis,” Felicia says. “This has opened up wholesome discussions and educational panels that give us the chance to learn about our differences and who we represent in society.

Prior to Regis, Felicia attended the Rochester School for the Deaf in New York which was a conscious attempt to avoid mainstream education during high school. Applying to college can be a daunting experience for any teenager, but Felicia found herself in unchartered waters when she began her search. Making the decision to attend a mainstreamed school for the first time in years was both exhilarating and nerve-racking for Felicia. While some students were looking into schools based on courses and professors, Felicia was working tirelessly, researching schools and reaching out to all of the directors of accessibility services to confirm what resources might be available to her on campus. “Some responded, some didn’t. Some gave me lengthy explanations of the services provided at their institution, while many didn’t,” she remembers. Undeterred, Felicia continued her outreach until she found a place that she could call home, knowing they could provide her with the proper tools she needed for her education. “When I was looking into Regis, Courtney Mulligan, Director of Student Disability and Accessibility Service called me immediately,” Felicia says. “She made me feel comfortable with the idea of attending a mainstreamed school again.”

Felicia is grateful for her educational experience and credits Courtney for the success she has had. “She has worked vigorously during my time here to ensure I received access to everything on campus,” says Felicia. This includes working with Felicia to provide ASL interpreters and ensuring there is always proper communication between Felicia and her professors. “Courtney has also been a constant source of encouragement and a mentor since day one of my college career. I couldn't have done it without her,” Felicia added

“Felicia is the first deaf student we’ve had since I began my role at the school in 2013,” says Courtney. “She has been gracious in helping me learn her unique needs and how to best support her both in and outside the classroom.” In Courtney’s eyes, Felicia has come to be a role model to other students by helping them find their voices and advocate for the support they need. “Felicia is a shining example of a true leader at Regis,” Courtney remarked. “I am saddened that she will be moving on from Regis once she graduates next year, but I am so excited to see the amazing impact she will most certainly have on the world.”

The value placed upon inclusion and equity at Regis is important to Felicia and has sparked her passion for advocacy. Last year she completed an internship at the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) where she had the opportunity to observe many of the parent-infant programs available to families with deaf children. Felicia was able to participate in discussion forums to address concerns of services and resources available to the deaf community. “The internship has really enhanced my overall learning experience in the social work field by providing me with the necessary skills I will need after graduation,” Felicia says.

In addition to her coursework, Felicia has a strong love of the arts and has taken full advantage of several on-campus extracurricular activities. She is the Secretary of the Regis Theatre Club, Choreographer in the Dance Company, and a member of the Instrumental Ensemble. “Performing arts holds all forms of storytelling, and it is what brings communities together,” Felicia explains. “I believe stories allow us to convey our emotions in a way that is relatable, and ultimately, transformative.” This idea inspired Felicia and the American Sign Language Club—of which she is the founder and president—to make a music video interpreting a song in their own way. The video is an example of how Felicia uses music to bridge the gap between communities—creating something that can be experienced and appreciated by everyone.

After graduating, Felicia plans to use her degree in social work to find ways to improve or enhance the learning abilities of deaf children through performing arts. “I want to continue exploring ways in which music can be embraced through our other senses, besides just the ears,” Felicia says. “There are many deaf individuals who have an innate sense of musicality, and I believe they could benefit and thrive if music comes from a more visual standpoint.”