Students campaign for ASL classes

Rebecca Olles

Students in Northwestern’s American Sign Language Club have begun organizing their efforts to create sign language classes at NU, arguing that the deaf have their own culture and language that merit scholarly study.Associated Student Government Academic Director Muhammad Safdari said ASL classes are still in the early stages of development. The Weinberg senior said he has created an ad hoc academic committee to develop a plan that demonstrates NU’s need for a faculty member to teach ASL classes in the School of Communication.”We need to keep moving forward until we find that door to open somewhere,” Safdari said. “There’s just a lot of different doors that need to be opened, like funding and who’s going to teach it.”Garen Checkley, a member of the ASL Club and ASG, said both groups are looking to move forward incrementally.”What we’re doing right now is working on developing a game plan,” the Communication senior said. “We’re deciding the best way to pitch a plan to the administration because we don’t want to just demand an ASL minor.” By the end of Winter Quarter, Safdari said he hopes the ad hoc committee will have a formal proposal written.Last winter, a student-led ASL seminar was added as the club’s first step toward integrating sign language into the NU community. Tania Karas, a Medill junior, taught the course with ASL Club President Karen Bullen last spring, and is teaching it again this fall. The class, for which students receive one credit, covers language as well as cultural issues.”I feel like the culture is being ignored by (NU),” she said. “It’s something that they brushed over in Communication classes, and I think it’s something that students need to be more aware of, especially if they’re going into a field that works with deaf people.”There has been a waiting list of students trying to get into the class all three quarters the class has been offered.”The first week of school I think I got about 15 or 20 e-mails asking me if there was still space left in the class,” Karas said. “At one point last year we had 90 people who wanted to take the class.”Since then, Safdari and Checkley have worked with the ASL Club and ASG to develop proposals for a professional linkage seminar.”It would be a more formal way of showing demand whereas a student-organized seminar is not very formal,” Checkley said. Consultants Advising Student Enterprises, an NU student organization designed to provide strategic research for student groups, worked with ASL Club last year to conduct a study on students’ interest and to analyze other universities offering ASL courses. The study showed that out of the top 70 ranked schools similar in size to NU, 74 percent offer ASL classes. Also, six Big Ten schools have the program, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Wisconsin.”It’s kind of ironic that NU has such a strong program in audiology and hearing impairing difficulties, but they don’t actually offer the classes,” Checkley said. Safdari said one of his strategies for gaining interest in the program is to gather support from other student groups.”My personal role is rallying the student groups’ support,” he said. “That’s how the administration pays attention. Up to this point, (ASL Club) has been a B-status group, but now if other students start clamoring for it, it’s a much stronger case.”Karas told The DAILY in May the ASL Club would also like to eventually push for ASL classes to count toward foreign language credits.Jeffrey Geiger, also a member of ASL Club and ASG, said he was originally drawn to the club last year out of pure interest, and added the program had much to offer to the NU community.”There was just so much more about (the club),” the Weinberg sophomore said. “It just came to the point where it didn’t make sense that ASL isn’t offered at the school when it’s useful, and it’s clear to us that it would fit the criteria for foreign language students.”[email protected]