GW students enrolled in American Sign Language courses are asking the University to listen – they want foreign language credit for their work.
About 100 students in ASL classes are collecting signatures to accompany a formal request they plan to make in January to the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences that their classes be classified as a foreign language rather than an elective.
“Right now there’s no University recognition at all,” said Rebecca Rowe, a senior English major and coordinator of the effort. “I’ve taken 13 classes in ASL-related topics and only nine credit hours are recognized.”
ASL falls under the Graduate School of Education and Human Development’s special education program. The third level of ASL counts as a graduate-level course.
“ASL is a critical piece of what we do in (special education),” said Jay Shotel, chair of the teacher preparation and special education department. “The problem is not where the courses are housed, it is with the rigidity of the school that refuses to accept them.”
Shotel said he does not want to see the classes leave his department.
Kim Moreland, associate dean of CSAS undergraduate studies, said her department will consider approval when they receive a request.
“It’s not the kind of decision one makes on one’s own,” she said. “It would be made by a committee.”
Individual students have tried to put their credits toward an ASL minor in the past but were denied, ASL professor Bob Seremeth said through a student interpreter. It is the first organized effort he can remember in his 13 years teaching at GW, he said.
“We plan to do it the right way the first time,” Rowe said. “This petition is focused, and I think it will work. We have a different kind of support group here.”
When Seremeth and Dr. Steve Chough arrive in George’s on the fifth floor of the Marvin Center each Tuesday for Club, an optional get-together for ASL students, every chair is full.
Sophomore Rachel Gallagher estimates she and her classmates have gone to all 20 of the optional meetings this fall and said the family-like environment is to thank.
“I’ve taught elsewhere,” Seremeth said. “GW students are different. They are special. So many want to volunteer as teaching assistants, but I can only take two or three.”
The University does not pay Seremeth and Chough to attend Club every week, Seremeth said. In the same way, teaching assistants in ASL classes work for free.
“The teaching assistants translate for new students,” sophomore Jessica Lynch said. “They’re on their feet most of the class and do a lot of writing on the boards.”
Senior Michael Brown learned ASL this fall to better understand his older brother’s hearing impairment.
“Sign language is a social language,” Brown said. “You have to look at and touch the people you talk to. You have to look them in the eyes.”
Brown said he wants to use his ability to sign in the future and is not alone in his desire to continue his use of the gesturing language.
Sophomore Courtney Pine will transfer to the University of Delaware in the spring to study special education.
Rowe said she hopes to become a certified interpreter and teach English at Gallaudet University.
Students and teachers said the incentive to follow through with the program is lost because the credit hours do not count.
“I’ve lost good signers because it doesn’t fit into their schedule to have so many electives,” Seremeth said.
Aside from Gallaudet University, GW is the only school in the area that offers more than introductory courses in ASL. Rowe said since she began ASL seven semesters ago, a lot of consortium students have enrolled at GW because of its reputation.
Chough and Seremeth said it is impressive that all three ASL professors are deaf.
Rowe signed that the goal is to have minors and majors in ASL. She reached behind her head with her right arm and pointed to the outstretched pointer finger on her left hand. She had signed “long term.”