Concerns arise over new sign language courses

Concerns arise over new sign language courses

With the establishment of all new ideas, products or programs, there is always a surrounding buzz of activity; a murmur of agreement or disagreement to accompany every accomplishment. With the announcement of the spring semester’s newly-added American Sign Language courses came a wave of these murmurs, many of them torn between celebrating this new program while questioning some aspects of its existence.

“Initially, we were very happy to hear that after many years of hard work and working with — and at times, against — the university, that the classes were finally going to be offered,” said Gina Vincenti, American Sign Language and Culture Club president. “However, we have noticed a few issues that we were concerned about and wanted to be addressed.”

Among those concerns included permanence of the ASL courses come fall of 2010, where many club members worried about the HPR prefix becoming a stationary one. However, William Seleskey, Student Senate vice president of Educational Affairs, said these classes will remain as HPR classes through the spring, summer, fall 2010 and the winter 2011 semesters whereupon both the classes and the curriculum will be reviewed by a curriculum committee. That committee will then decide the direction of the classes and whether or not there is enough interest to make them a permanent part of the Grand Valley State University curriculum.

“The main thing students should remember is that this is a process,” said Student Senator Laura Stinar. “Things will fall into place. No matter what happens, students should continue to show support for the program so we can expand it. If these first ASL classes are a success, that is how they will be kept and expanded on.”

The biggest voiced concern, however, was the program placement of the ASL courses in the health professions department as opposed to the modern languages department. With the courses falling under the health professions department, many feel the breadth of their meaning may become bracketed.

ASL is a language with grammar, syntax, vocabulary and many other characteristics of any spoken language, and the deaf culture is just as rich as any of those associated with spoken languages,” said Elle Gray-Martin, active member of the ASLCC.

Seleskey said the reasoning behind the department placement was simple: modern languages was not interested in the courses, while the health professions department was.

“Many other departments on campus that we have contacted and worked with, including the modern languages department, have absolutely no interest in offering ASL courses, which is why it has taken so long to get these courses up and running,” Seleskey said.

Vincenti said she too has worked to get ASL classes into the modern languages department for almost six years, finding herself “brushed aside” at every attempt.

“We have been told, on numerous occasions, that they have absolutely no interest in having ASL housed in their department for various reasons,” Vincenti said.

As it stands, the ASL courses are not a permanent part of the health professions major. The goal behind the placement was to eventually encompass ASL courses into the audio/speech pathology programs, which likewise are still being developed at the university. Completion of the ASL courses does not give a student an automatic ASL certification – there is an independent, outside exam that must be taken after. However, Jean Silbar of health professions has indicated to Seleskey that the ASL course sequence will go a long way in preparing the students to take the exam.

“Any student from any major can take these courses and pursue ASL certification, which is one of the great things about the courses being offered,” Seleskey said. “There is no limitation to who can take these courses. Most importantly, I cannot emphasize enough that these courses are open to everyone at the university, not just HPR students. At the end of the day, what really matters isn’t what three letter code the courses have in front of them, but the fact that for the first time GVSU students can learn to sign as a part of their studies here.”

Vincenti and the rest of the ASLCC are still hoping for some changes in the program before it progresses into permanency.

“The deaf community is a large, strong and proud group of people who demand as much respect as a culture as any other group,” Vincenti said. “The deaf have been grossly misrepresented and underappreciated in American society, and it is time that their language and culture are treated with the same respect as the other languages and cultures in the modern language department.”

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