The Fight for an ASL Minor
The fight is on to create a minor at NU specifically for American Sign Language. Students and teachers alike have actively supported a change in the curriculum to include a sixth ASL course and therefore also a minor in ASL. “With every career, pretty much, (ASL) is useful,” said Alyssa Brese, a student currently enrolled in an ASL course.
Professor Nanette Harmon, who teaches ASL, believes that it will help Niagara University toward achieving its goal of diversity by teaching interested students more about deaf culture while simultaneously allowing them to make it a part of their degrees. Harmon claims that achieving awareness of the deaf minority, which is often overlooked, is a big part of working toward a society in which the merits and abilities of deaf people are recognized and appreciated.
“As a person living with deafness, I know what it’s like to go through life with people not understanding the difference in the way you approach the world,” Harmon said. “And as NU has such a variety of majors, our students will be interacting with diverse people no matter where they end up working in a career field.”
Many NU students share Harmon’s passion for ASL and deaf culture. However, with specific class requirements for many majors, there is little room for more than one or two ASL courses in the assigned electives slots. Few students are able to take all five ASL courses that NU offers to its students. With the creation of a minor in American Sign Language and deaf culture, this problem would be remedied, and students would be able to add another facet to their final degrees.
“I think people want to take more (ASL), and I think the deaf community is really underrepresented. So it would be very beneficial to the NU community in general,” said Amanda DeFisher, who has taken the 100-level ASL course, but is now unable to take any more due to limited room for advised electives.
Another major benefit of creating more opportunities for students to learn about deaf culture is the ability of sign language to unite people from more varied backgrounds.
“Two worlds can merge together. Everyone can be part of both,” says Lindsey Boyle, who is taking ASL.
The development of a minor in ASL has the potential to get the NU community invested in learning more about deaf culture and can create networks with others that are part of the deaf community. This includes the hearing, hard of hearing and the deaf in the area, and it also includes attending silent events at other colleges in the Buffalo-Niagara region, many of which are already well-attended by students at those schools, according to Professor Krista Rahelich.
Changing a curriculum or creating an entire minor can be a lengthy and tedious process, with additional expenses for creating yet another course offering. However, on its website under Niagara University’s “Goals with Respect to Diversity,” the Committee on Diversity states its purpose is, “To ensure that our students are prepared to succeed in our increasingly diverse and global society” and “To ensure that all are not just tolerated, but respected and valued in an environment that fosters inclusiveness.”
Niagara has made a promise to its students to promote diversity in its many forms, and offering a minor in ASL would be a step toward making this diversity a reality. It would create student awareness of the deaf community and culture, and it would also help create connections both among NU students, and among the many groups of college students in the area.
Through the creation of an ASL minor, students would be given valuable tools to create a better, more diverse, more culturally aware society long after they graduate.
“There’s already demonstrated student interest,” said Harmon. “The school has to catch up.”