By Lance Jordan, Sports Editor
One of the great things about the University of Missouri-St. Louis is its diversity, from different ethnic groups to the different forms of communication. One of those ways of communicating is with sign language. To some, this may seem a bit new or unfamiliar. For 27-year-old UMSL Police Officer Dustin Smith, using sign language is just as easy to him as speaking.
Within sixth months of working at the university, Smith was conducting foot patrol through the Nosh, the go-to spot for UMSL students and facility to grab a burger and fries from the WOW Café or a slice of pizza from Pizza Hut. To his surprise, Smith stumbled upon a student communicating completely in sign language in this busy UMSL hub.
“I remember stopping and turning real quick, thinking ‘did I see what I [think I] just saw?’ So when I take a second look, then I realize the entire conversation this person was having was in sign language,” said Smith.
Smith then used sign language to ask the student, “Hey how you doing? Nice to meet you. How’s your day going?”
Born and raised in the Florissant-Hazelwood area, Smith is the son of a senior accountant at the main post office building downtown and a custodian at the Hazelwood School District. While he was growing up, the Smith family was big into community service and volunteering. It was actually how Smith learned sign language.
“I was doing a volunteer community project with this religious organization I was with. There was a deaf person there and I thought it [sign language] was really neat, so I ended up getting in touch with someone who was an interpreter, and I kind of had that as a passion to serve, because not that many people know sign language,” said Smith.
Through this experience, the interpreter and the hearing-impaired man taught Smith little bits of sign language, and eventually Smith was able to tell him things that no one else could tell him. Smith really enjoyed the connection that he formed with the man, in which he would come to Smith for help communicating and getting information.
Smith attended St. Louis Florissant Valley Community College where he completed a two year interpreter certificate in Deaf Communication Studies. There he learned signs, how to interpret, the history, and legal issues with signs.
“I’m a visual learner. So it was not as hard to copy what I see. When I went to school for sign language, the history part of it was a little more difficult: remembering dates, people’s names important to the deaf culture,” said Smith.
Despite Smith’s skill and love for sign language, he knew he wanted to serve more than just one group of people, which led him to policing. After spending three and a half years in the Northwoods Police Department, the community-oriented atmosphere of UMSL brought Smith to the UMSL police force.
A year later, after encountering the student in the Nosh, Smith continues to keep in touch with that particular student, along with a whole group of students who use sign language to communicate. His ability to communicate with the students has been a great blessing for them. Smith recounts an instance where an interpreter through the Office of Disability was going to miss an event. “I was on foot patrol in the Millennium Student Center. I remember one of the students who uses sign language had stopped me to talk. Through that, I learned there was an event going on. This student was needing someone to interpret,” said Smith.
Smith went about calling his sergeant, and found out that this event was not going to have an interpreter.
“I’m not sure if the interpreter was notified of the event or the paperwork wasn’t done right. But the student needed to do this for class,” said Smith.
With the clearance from his sergeant, Smith was able to spare 20 minutes to interpret for the student.
Officer Smith’s actions serving and helping the school in different ways shows that the UMSL Police Department is a very student-friendly department, driven to make the community of the university a better place.
“I love the atmosphere here, it’s a very positive place to work. I can’t imagine working anywhere else right now,” said Smith.