The 19th annual Maine Deaf Film Festival is the largest and longest running deaf film festival in the world.  Over the past 20 years, the festival has brought together thousands of viewers and countless numbers of guest speakers from all over the world to participate in what could be considered one of Maine’s proudest traditions.  Although the show is still set for April 21st and 22nd, this year has brought on a new situation: a decrease in student activity fees stemming from USM’s lowering retention rate.

The American Sign Language Club has run this festival for 20 years (excluding 2020 due to COVID-19) with the help of USM’s Linguistics department, USM Professors, and funding coming primarily from the Board of Student Organizations (BSO) and the Student Senate.  The ASL Club runs a variety of different events and social gatherings throughout the year, but the biggest draw is the Film Festival.  For the past two years specifically, the cost to put on the festival has averaged around $7,000, but sometimes it is difficult to reach that mark. According to ASL Club President Maia DeRosear, “Clubs themselves always pay at least 25% of the cost, and then the BSO covers the other 75% of the cost.  So if I’m asking for $7,000 that means that ASL Club pays $1,750 and the BSO pays $5,250.  Here’s where it gets tricky; any proposal to the BSO over $5,000, Student Government is required to pay half of that cost.”  Which means that the BSO and Student Government have to pay $2,625 each, and for the past two years that DeRosear has been president of the club, this hasn’t been an issue–with the exception of this year.

DeRosear came to the Student Senate meeting on January 27th with the knowledge that there have been funding restraints with the BSO and Student Government and understood the past proposals could be deemed as out of date, but she wanted to just get on the same page with the Senators.  Referring back to the January 27th Student Senate Meeting article, on behalf of the ASL Club, DeRosear asked the Student Senate for $2,625, the other $2,625 to be covered by the BSO and the remaining $1,750 will be paid by the ASL Club; and due to the Student Government having to recently cut down on how much money they can distribute, they could not give the ASL Club the money they asked for.  A second proposal was offered by DeRosear that changed the numbers to having the ASL Club pay a percentage more than what the BSO and the Student Senate would split between them.  She mentioned when she initially brought this proposal up to her officers, a linguistics faculty advisor and a member of the Film Festival’s staff said that the Student Senate was turning their backs on the event due to the Senates cutting back on funding.  DeRosear later said that comment was made from emotion and not fact only because that faculty member has been a part of the event since its inception and she knows the importance this event brings to thousands of people.  After a lengthy conversation where the Senators asked outside members of the meeting to leave the room, they eventually asked everyone to return and it was revealed by the Student Senate that they could only contribute $500.  The Student Senate was fully aware that this can come across “as a slap in the face”, according to Senate Chair Chance Gagne; but it is something that is being shown across all respective entities and groups and it was far from anything personal by the Student Senate towards the ASL Club.

The BSO’s current situation is that they don’t have the amount of money in their account that would allow them to cover the funds for the festival and all the other clubs’ big events that they run.  At the moment, according to DeRosear, the ASL Club actually has more money in their account than the BSO does in their special events account, and when a club is asking the BSO for a large amount of money, the BSO has to go to each individual club to get their approval to give that particular club that amount of money to make sure the BSO can still help the other clubs events.

The Student Government’s situation is that they are facing funding restraints as a result of low student activity fees and USM’s low retention rate, a trend being seen throughout many public institutions.  “The way our admission system works”, according to Student Body President Bri Demaso, “each academic year (September to May) we have an amount students that come to USM and based off of that data, from the previous year, we measure whether we are up or down in terms of retention.”  Although COVID-19 and needs in the workforce are causes for this low retention rate as well, the other possible side effect is the 2025 Cliff.  According to Demaso, “The 2025 Cliff is this fact that there were a lot less children born between 2008 and 2010 due to the recession during those years.”  Which is true, studies show that there is a potential 10-15% drop in college students enrolling in higher education institutions.  Even though it is projected to be two years out, the dropping retention rates of USM and other public institutions are happening right now, which is resulting in the Student Government and their respective entities to tighten their belts.  It’s becoming a domino effect that is being shown with this particular situation between the Student Senate and the American Sign Language Club.

ASL Club President DeRosear did say the club may not make a profit from the festival because of all the expenses that occur to make the festival possible.  Bringing in guest speakers for example is some of their biggest expenditures according to DeRosear.  The cost to book them, pay for their flight, meals, and hotel fees add up and each guest’s rates vary as well.  On top of that, the club needs to hire guides, helpers, and translators for the event as well since sign language is not a universal language.  DeRosear said she is fortunate and supremely grateful for the fact the ASL Club has almost $10,000 currently in their bank account, largely due from the clubs fundraising, merchandise sales, ticket sales for all the events the club runs, and also a donation from Sorenson Communications that was donated exclusively to the club for the festival before DeRosear’s tenure as president.  

“I see both of their perspectives,” DeRosear said about when she spoke to her club members while also negotiating funding with the Student Government during this period in time, “that’s what club leaders do we need to see both sides of it, and it’s my job to kind of mitigate those conversations right now, and really make sure that everybody isn’t playing the blame game because it’s easy to be angry.  We’re understanding what happened and we’re gonna adapt to the situation. There’s a right to have feelings, but we need to adapt and know that there are ways through it and sit down and really look at the resources because as soon as we started to do that, we started to come up with solutions for our club that we will find a way.”

The 19th Annual Maine Deaf Film Festival will be taking place in April on Friday the 21st and Saturday the 22nd.  For more information visit their website, contact Sandra Wood ([email protected]), the USM Linguistics Department, or contact ASL Club through the Husky Hub, Instagram (@usm.aslclub), or their Facebook group (USM ASL Club).


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