Members of the department of communications sciences and disorders have made efforts to have American Sign Language be considered a foreign language at Baylor University.
A bill requesting the change has been approved by both Academic Affairs and Student Senate. It is now being sent to multiple faculty at Baylor, including the provost and head of communication sciences and disorders, as was requested in the last clause of the bill.
The bill was drafted by Chicago, Ill., freshman Kalyn Story, who is a Student Senate member and sign language interpreting minor. Story said she has been dedicated to ASL since a young age, and was told before applying that ASL would be offered as a foreign language. After committing to the university, however, she was told that the major she had chosen did not allow for it. As a double-major, adding a 21-hour minor is an added stress.
“It’s something that I’m passionate about. I definitely believe that sign language should be allowed for all majors. It’s allowed for several, just not [specifically] in the College of Arts and Sciences,” Story said.
Alhambra, Calif., senior Devin Perry is a theater performance major and sign language interpreting minor. She has worked to make ASL a foreign language by writing letters two years ago to people with the ability to make a change, and spoke about misconceptions concerning the deaf community.
“The deaf community and the hearing community can often be seen as one, or as a sub-culture of America as if they share our books and they share our culture because they live in America. But because they have their own language, they are therefore a part of their own separate culture,” Perry said.
Perry said she believes that the lack of ASL acceptance keeps the community from being able to connect with others.
“We are missing out on so many stories about deaf oppression and so many stories about the disempowerment of deaf people in society because we are just convinced that they are exactly like us,” Perry said.
Story said she feels that ASL being included as a part of foreign language requirements for all majors bodes well with Baylor’s mission statement, which is “to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community.” Less than 2 percent of the estimated 70 million deaf people worldwide know Christ, according to DOOR International.
“It’s time for us to be inclusive and show the love and acceptance and compassion of Christ as a Christian university,” Story said. “We need to spread the good news, and this is a way that we can do that.”
Gladewater junior Emilye Harris said she has been involved in the recent fight for ASL and has been impacted by those who have been involved previously. Baylor graduate-turned professor, Marnie Abrahams, who is a lecturer in the department fought as a student and is included in the actions being taken now. Senior lecturer in American Sign Language and program director, Lori Wrzesinski, also wrote a letter years ago requesting a change. Harris said she believes those involved will not be discouraged, regardless of the outcome.
“It is definitely something that comes up with every student that is involved in ASL and the deaf community when they realize the issue that there is with it not being a language and how restrictive that is,” Harris said. “They’ve been fighting, and I definitely believe that people will continue to fight for this even if the people who are fighting now graduate, because it is something that people find in themselves, not that people are passing down.”