Benildean alumnus and Deaf advocate, Dx. Raphael “Rafa” Domingo, became the first Ph.D. recipient in the World Deaf Leadership Scholarship from Washington-based Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts college in the world exclusively devoted to deaf students, on May 14, 2022.
With a Bachelor in Applied Deaf Studies and co-founder of the Philippine Federation of the Deaf Inc., Dx. Domingo perfectly encapsulates the definition of a jack of all trades. Holding positions in both local and international non-governmental Deaf organizations, they served a variety of roles including advocacy, teaching, organizational development, and research.
Even as a student, they already showed exemplary leadership by being part of the 1995 Benilde Student Council as a Program for the Deaf representative in the Educational Development Department. However, despite their plethora of achievements, Dx. Domingo shared the challenges of being a Deaf student in an exclusive society, and how they overcame such in their early years.
“When I was in primary school, I was too young to understand. Because of the parental figure, I decided to take a backseat. I believed that all of the non-Deaf teachers' criticisms of Deaf persons like me were accurate. At the time, there was no Deaf role model. After I had my associate degree from college, I joined the Philippine Federation of the Deaf, met several Deaf role models abroad, and came to the realization that everything non-Deaf teachers taught about us was wrong. I made the decision to study on my own, even though I know it's too late to turn back the clock.”
When asked about their thoughts on what the new administration should improve on Deaf education in the Philippines, Dx. Domingo gave emphasis on how emotional wellbeing plays a pivotal role in student performance.
“As stated in RA 11106 and RA 11650, I strongly encourage the Department of Education to employ licensed and non-licensed Deaf teachers and Filipino Sign Language (FSL) specialists to work in grades K–6 because they are the best teachers and specialists familiar with the varied learning needs of Deaf students... Prior to developing their comprehension skills, deaf kids need a strong language foundation, but they also require socio-emotional care. For instance, they must embrace their Deaf culture and identity.”
In an article by Benilde SDEAS’ Deirdre Dalawampu, Dx. Domingo stated they believe the absence of language barriers is the first step in effective communication. Now, as the Head of Deaf Heritage and FSL unit of Benilde’s Center for Education and Advancement of the Deaf (CEAD), their subjects of interest—FSL, linguistic ethnography, and Deaf human rights—are all paving the way for further research and studies.
As they pursue to openly show their support not only for the Deaf community, but also for the LGBTQIA+, a strong sense of purpose is what Dx. Domingo radiates.
The PhD holder, who identifies as non-binary, served as an adviser to the Pinoy Deaf Rainbow (PDR), the first national Deaf LGBT organization in the Philippines and Asia. “Since English and Filipino are not their first languages, I helped them communicate in writing such as business correspondence.” The PDR continues to participate in non-Deaf LGBTQIA+ activities, as well as in HIV awareness campaigns. “PDR is still fighting for the passage of the SOGIE Law and continuing its HIV awareness campaign. I have Pinoy Deaf Rainbow's complete support,” they added.
To cap off the interview, Dx. Domingo extended their aspirations on the future of Deaf Benildean students.
“I want Benilde to open other undergraduate and graduate programs to Deaf students. This is what innovation and inclusion are all about! I believe that Benilde should open the doors now rather than wait a while before doing so. Allow Deaf students to break free of the circle and decide what they want to become! For Deaf students, Benilde is the best place to be.”