Guest presenter in ASL class attracts drama

Celia Scrivener, in a Twitter post Tuesday, posted about a speaker in her ASL class. Twitter

By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer

After controversy erupted around an American Sign Language class’ guest presenter, students who attended the class are divided on whether the lecturer crossed a line.

Marshall junior Celia Scrivener kicked off a frenzy on Twitter when she posted a picture taken during the guest lecture in Dr. Lewis Lummer’s ASL III class Tuesday. As of Thursday night, the tweet has received 602 likes and 202 retweets.

The picture showed guest presenter Jari Saavalainen, a Chicago pastor, displaying the homepage of the Deaf611 website emblazoned with the words “deaf Christians struggling with unwanted same sex attraction.”

Deaf611’s website said its mission is to “provide healing by offering resources, support and hope for Deaf people struggling with unwanted same sex attraction.” In the photo’s caption, Scrivener said it amounted to the promotion of conversion therapy.

“Today in my ASL class @Baylor was a speaker about deaf conversion therapy,” Scrivener said. “This should NOT happen. Do better @Baylor this s— is ridiculous.”

Scrivener also said she did not think Lummer anticipated Saavalainen to discuss this topic, and that he was “very interested in getting off of that subject.”

Another student from the class, who asked to remain anonymous, said conversion therapy was “never even implied” and the situation was being blown out of proportion.

“The whole point was to talk about the missionary side of deaf culture… the whole thing was completely unrelated to that website,” the student said. “The fact that it was blown out of proportion shows that there is a bias here.”

The anonymous student also said translating between ASL and English does not always preserve the exact meaning, and attributed the conversion therapy controversy to a translation error.

“When you’re interpreting sign language to English, there’s always going to be differences,” the student said. “I totally understand how that is such a sensitive topic… but that was never what was brought up. Never once did it cross my mind that that was even what was being portrayed by this website.”

In the midst of disagreement over the website’s message and the presenter’s intent, Lummer sent an email to his students Wednesday apologizing for the incident. In the email, Lummer said he “deeply regret[ted]” the guest lecturer’s actions.

“I deeply regret the action of our guest presenter yesterday in class when he opened a web page about conversion therapy in answer to a student question,” Lummer said. “I would like to offer my sincere apologies for this incident. Allow me to assure you that I highly value your education, I will strive to ensure that this mistake is not repeated in the future. I value Baylor’s commitment to the rights of all our students, and am dedicated to providing a caring, loving, and supporting classroom for our students.”

Baylor publicly condemned the practice of conversion therapy earlier this semester. Scrivener said Tuesday’s presentation should not reflect poorly on Baylor’s or Lummer’s commitment to that end.

“I don’t think that it reflects the university’s stance on conversion therapy at all, and I don’t think it reflects Dr. Lummer’s stance on conversion therapy or LGBT people in general,” Scrivener said. “I think it was nothing more than an unfortunate lapse in judgement.”