Chancellor’s Corner: Different

The pandemic highlighted something that I’ve struggled with for years.  Significant hearing loss.

I’ve had a ringing in my ears for a while. But with all of the masks covering people’s mouths over the past year, I realized that my hearing is worse than I thought.  I went to a specialist in Memphis and my thoughts were confirmed: I needed hearing aids.

Call it pride, but it was hard to wear the hearing aids that first day. My worst fear was realized in a meeting last week. We were in a large room with an echo, and I was struggling to adjust my hearing aids to a new setting. When I asked someone to please repeat themselves, they loudly responded with “you need to crank up the volume on those hearing aids, man!”

And at that very moment – I felt imperfect. Different.

Fortunately, I’ve had a couple of other revelations this week that have truly opened my eyes and provided a bright new perspective.

My hearing aids have given me an opportunity to interact with others. Students have approached me to talk about my devices and shared their stories with me about hearing loss. Another person asked if he could take a photo of my hearing aids to share with his father – a fellow that needs to get them but is hesitant to wear them.

This experience also provided a doorway for several friends to inquire about my hearing aids. They are struggling with hearing loss but didn’t know where to even start on the road to better hearing. I’ve been able to connect them with my hearing specialist and have shown them that it’s an easy (and satisfying) process.

I’m enjoying sounds that I’ve never heard clearly before. Student and faculty conversations on the Quad. The sounds of the birds on the walking trail around Pacer Pond.  The hissing of the steam vents in the campus sidewalks.

Best of all, I’m enjoying more moments with my family.

These hearing aids aren’t an obstacle. They represent a bridge to enhanced relationships and a new connection to the world around me.

How are you different? It’s my hope that UT Martin is a place where we can celebrate differences.  We strive to be a university that is open, accessible and welcoming to all. We’ve got a ways to go before we’re there, but it’s a goal.

I want to know how we can make UT Martin a better place for you. Contact me with any ideas you may have.

And watch out for those quiet conversations on the Quad from now on – I can hear you!

It’s a great day to be a Skyhawk.

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