Sign language programs at GW have been at the center of much debate on campus. Two years ago, citing a financial loss, the Graduate School of Education and Human Development ceased to offer classes in American Sign Language. The GSEHD classes were eventually picked up by the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the University Honors Program, each of which currently offers two levels of ASL. But controversy has returned, with a call for ASL to be classified as a foreign language.
Spearheaded by two professors in CCAS citing evidence of ASL’s being a foreign language, the proposal has drawn criticism from many other language professors. Professors such as Jonathan Chaves, who teaches Chinese, argue that ASL – which he describes as an “artificially created language” – should not be classified along with languages with rich cultures like Chinese and French. Clearly, this proposal – if the Curriculum Committee were to pass it – would be met with significant resistance in the Faculty Senate. Regardless, it is a proposal with significant merit.
The little-known reality about sign language is that, while it was originally created as a way for deaf individuals to communicate, it has blossomed into a vibrant language that accompanies a unique and equally vibrant culture. Depending on the professor, many students taking ASL classes at GW will spend a significant amount of time learning not just about the language’s grammar, but also about the Deaf Community and its impact on ASL. It is imperative that interested GW students are exposed to this community – a relatively easy task considering GW’s proximity to Gallaudet University, a deaf college in D.C. and a thriving center of deaf culture. This page would like to see GW take advantage of its prime location for such an endeavor.
This page not only supports the current proposal; it suggests something further. GW should investigate a variety of classes not only studying ASL, but the Deaf Community in general. Offering classes in deaf culture and contemporary deaf issues in addition to ASL – perhaps culminating in a minor – would not only give GW students an edge in the related job market, but would produced graduates more understanding about a sorely misunderstood culture in America.