There are times in our lives when success transcends personal achievement, changing us and the world that surrounds us. That’s what a doctoral degree has done for Latisha Porter-Vaughn. The University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) 2023 doctoral graduate struggled through much of her life due to hearing loss, but with her Doctor of Philosophy in Organizational Development and Leadership, she has ascended to a new level as an advocate, scholar, and inspiration to those facing extraordinary challenges.
Working Toward Her Ultimate Goal
Latisha is the co-founder of the Hearing Loss Association of America - Essex County Chapter, Vice President of the Hearing Loss Association of New Jersey, and a board member and chair of its scholarship committee. She is also a research associate for the National Deaf Center and a paralegal at the Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice, where she has worked for more than 30 years. She also is at the forefront of transformative change that could impact graduates at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for generations.
Collaborating closely with Lissa Stapleton, Associate Professor of Deaf Studies at California State University, Northridge, Latisha presented her research and findings at the 31st National Black Deaf Advocacy Conference in Alabama.
“I’m working toward my ultimate goal,” she explains, just a few months after she walked the stage to accept her degree at the UAGC Spring 2023 Commencement ceremony. “I’m writing a literature review for a professor’s HBCU project, which will help HBCUs become more accommodating for deaf students.”
Advocacy is a word she embraces, and much of her work involves convincing those with disabilities to advocate for themselves. Teens especially, she says, need to learn to speak up for themselves in order to communicate their intentions, get answers to their questions, and, ultimately, achieve their goals.
“They need to hear that continuously all the time and create worlds where they’re constantly asking for things for themselves, and to understand that the support that they receive and high school and junior high school would not be the same as college,” Latisha says. “You can do it, but you’re going to have to ask for it. They need to understand the difference and the rules and the laws, and they need to understand at an early age.”
Latisha’s work, she says, is meaningful because she knows what it’s like to feel excluded. As one of the 1.2% of deaf or hard of hearing people to have earned a PhD, she takes pride in being a role model for her community.
But know this, my hearing loss did not get in the way of believing in my dreams and working passionately to see them manifest.
Pursuing Her Passion
Latisha completed her PhD with a dissertation titled “Perceptions of Deaf and Hard of Hearing College Students’ Work Readiness Preparation.” That final project served as a stepping stone to her current role, but her journey was never easy.
“I was born with hearing loss and wear two behind-the-ear hearing aids,” she explains. “I cannot hear you if I turn them off or take them out of my ears.
“But know this, my hearing loss did not get in the way of believing in my dreams and working passionately to see them manifest.”
Latisha was just six weeks old when her mother passed away, yet she entered academic life determined not to let her personal struggles stand in the way of her success. Things took an unexpected turn, however, when her third grade teacher requested she take a hearing test. Despite her determination to succeed, the test posed a unique struggle as she was confronted with words she’d never heard clearly before, and the poor results of the test started a chain reaction of negative events, damaging her confidence and her grades.
“I struggled academically from the third grade until I finished high school because I wasn’t hearing. I was reading lips but didn’t even know I was reading lips, and people treated me like I heard everything and treated me like a normal kid,” she explains. “If someone turned their back on me and spoke, I didn’t know what they were saying, but no one told me I didn’t hear them correctly.”
Though she remained an active student, engaging in extracurricular activities both in and outside of school, her academic trajectory began to falter. The transition to high school posed further challenges as her performance dwindled, and she barely managed to make it through graduation. This phase of her academic journey illustrates the unspoken struggles that often accompany invisible obstacles such as hearing loss, she explains, reminding us all of the importance of empathy and support for those facing challenges beneath the surface.
Despite these challenges, Latisha was unaware that she suffered from hearing loss. At age 19, however, she left Ohio and moved to New Jersey to live with her sister. Immediately, her sister recognized Latisha had a problem with hearing and took her to the doctor.
“It was a big turning point for me to understand the whys of my behavior toward speaking and communication because there were so many barriers to communication I didn’t know about,” she says.
With her diagnosis, Latisha felt empowered to attend college, but there were too many barriers and a lack of resources that made it impossible for her to succeed.
I am empowered through my hearing loss to change perceptions and stigma that hard of hearing students can succeed in college with the right support, and I am very passionate about being part of that change. I want to be a role model for hard of hearing students, like my son, and bring about change that will remove barriers to opportunity for others.
Eventually, she would return to college and complete her bachelor’s degree and earn a master’s degree. However, the process was a struggle because of the lack of accommodations and awareness for those with hearing loss, and it opened her eyes to the obstacles others with hearing loss face. The experience inspired Latisha to pursue her PhD and eventually help others like her.
“Before attending UAGC, there were so many barriers, but by the time I got to UAGC they had these resources in place, and it was easy for me to succeed,” she explains.
Thanks to the disability and support services at UAGC, combined with the faculty and staff dedicated to a Culture of Care, Latisha found a safe and inclusive place to learn and study.
Her grit and determination drove her to work hard and succeed. After seven years, she completed her PhD at UAGC.
Today, she is using the skills she gained professionally and personally.
“My peers and colleagues are understanding more of inclusionary practices that can apply to many aspects at the workplace, and I am excited that I am able to think critically,” she adds. “I am profoundly thankful I can be an example for the people before me, after me, and in between.”
A HearStrong Champion
Even before she finished her PhD, Latisha was determined to light the path for those facing difficulties in their lives. Her story of resilience and perseverance has been documented in her first book, “Sounds of the Heart: A Story of a HearStrong Champion Persisting Against All Odds.” Published in 2022, it is a testament to her unyielding spirit and has made her a role model for her community, friends, and family. Her second book is scheduled to be published in April 2024, and she is already hard at work writing her third book.
Latisha says she hopes her story and her work will help change the perception and stigma of those with hearing loss and highlight how deaf and hard of hearing people are underrepresented in college and society.
“I am empowered through my hearing loss to change perceptions and stigma that hard of hearing students can succeed in college with the right support, and I am very passionate about being part of that change,” she says.