Filipino Raphael Domingo is 1st PhD graduate of World Deaf Leadership program

Rafa Domingo wears an LGBTIA and People of Color stole during Gallaudet University’s May 2022 Graduation. Benilde SDEAS photo.

Raphael “Rafa” Vergel de Dios Domingo of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB) has become the first Filipino scholar of the World Deaf Leadership (WDL) program to earn a doctorate degree.

The head of the Deaf Heritage and Filipino Sign Language Studies Unit of Benilde’s Center for Education and Advancement of the Deaf (CEAD) graduated with a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Gallaudet University, one of the world’s most prominent universities exclusively dedicated to deaf students.

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The Gallaudet’s Office Of International Affairs recognized the recent graduate as the first Ph.D. recipient of its scholarship program funded by the Nippon Foundation in Tokyo, Japan.

Domingo was awarded the Gallaudet-Nippon World Deaf Leadership (WDL) Scholarship on his third try in 2017 and is only the second Filipino to be accepted in the program which aims to empower deaf and hard of hearing leaders from developing nations.

The grant which covers the scholars’ full tuition and other expenses allowed Domingo to pursue postgraduate studies in linguistics and research interests such as Filipino Sign Language (FSL) documentation, Deaf education, and human rights, among others.

DLS-CSB has shared that Domingo intends to return soon to the Philippines to pursue further research on Filipino Sign Language.

The Filipino achiever looked back on his journey as a doctoral student at Gallaudet University in an email interview with the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (Benilde SDEAS).

“I applied for the Gallaudet-Nippon World Deaf Leadership Scholarship program twice but failed both times,” Rafa Domingo told Benilde SDEAS on June 13, 2022.

“I reapplied for the scholarship program one final time, thinking to myself that it was my last chance. Regardless, Gallaudet University accepted me. My Ph.D. journey was arduous because the linguistic jargons and academic American Sign Language were too much for me. I felt helpless and unsure how to seek support, but some of my classmates volunteered to help and urged me to join their study group,” Domingo added.

Domingo, who identifies as non-binary and uses the pronoun “siya” (as signed in Filipino Sign Language), graduated in 1996 with a Certificate in Bookkeeping and in 2010 with a Bachelor in Applied Deaf Studies, both from DLS-CSB.

Domingo also graduated with a Master of Arts in International Affairs with a concentration in comparative and international disability policy from American University. He co-founded the Philippine Federation of the Deaf and held several positions in deaf non-government organizations and government agencies.

Filipinos who overcame the odds and attended prestigious universities include award-winning Filipina photographer and former domestic worker Xyza Cruz Bacani who graduated from New York University, Joshua Mahilum, son of a sidewalk vendor and tricycle driver in Bacolod City, who completed his degree in chemical engineering, and Maria De Leon, the daughter of an immigrant Filipina nanny in the United States, who graduated with honors from Harvard University.

SEND CHEERS in the comments below to Raphael “Rafa” Vergel de Dios Domingo, the first deaf Filipino and World Deaf Leadership (WDL) scholar to earn a doctorate degree from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

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Margo is a voracious reader - some might even say she reads too much for her own good. She majored in BS Psychology and hopes to become a forensic psychologist one day. She’s also an aspiring writer, mental health advocate, and a staunch believer of equality.