Northwestern ASL class may be implemented next year

Lark Turner

After a year of student campaigning, Northwestern may establish an American Sign Language class in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, bringing the University one step closer to recognizing ASL as a foreign language.

“This is a really good first step,” said Medill junior Tania Karas, the American Sign Language Club’s academic committee chairwoman. “The end goal is to have more sign language to the point where maybe people could take it as a foreign language.”

NU currently offers a student-taught ASL seminar but has no formal ASL program. An ad hoc Associated Student Government committee, co-chaired by Karas, began work on creating a program at NU last year.

The committee’s goals were to organize classes and create an ASL program that would fulfill a foreign language requirement, said Muhammad Safdari, ASG’s academic vice president.

“Now we finally have a commitment from the University,” the Weinberg senior said.The class could be established as early as Winter or Spring Quarter next year and would be a professional linkage seminar, Safdari said.

The initiative began when Karas took an ASL class at Columbia College Chicago. Her professor there is now a candidate to teach NU’s new class, she said.

“I got the ball rolling,” Karas said. “It was something that I was very personally interested in.”

The seminar is not establishing a permanent curriculum, but the students are excited that the administration is “open and receptive” to the idea, said Garen Checkley, the ad hoc committee co-chair.

“We don’t expect them to establish a curriculum without seeing if students are interested,” the Communication senior said.

Students studying to join a medical or service profession can benefit from learning ASL, Karas said.

“Even if you’re not fluent in it, having an awareness of it and just being conscious of how other people are different from you will just help everyone,” she said.

The committee hopes the class, and a possible curriculum, would cover the language as well as cultural issues, Karas said.

“A lot of people don’t realize that deaf culture is its own distinct culture,” she said. “Sign language is so beautiful. It’s a way that you can convey entire sentences and feelings without even opening your mouth.”

Depending on student interest and the results of the class next year, the committee hopes the administration will eventually develop a curriculum that constitutes a foreign language requirement, Karas said.

“Northwestern is a very diverse and open-minded school, and I think we really encourage acceptance here,” she said. “It’s time to bring the school around. It is its own language. It’s the official language of the deaf and a lot of people who have disabilities.”[email protected] Elkin contributed reporting.