The Absence of American Sign Language at PLNU

Photo courtesy of Kyle Alderman.

A language used by Americans every day and taught by universities across the country is one not included at Point Loma Nazarene University. American Sign Language is the form of communication used by most deaf people in the United States. Gallaudet University estimates that approximately 250,000 to 500,000 people of all ages use the gesturing language in the U.S. With a community of its own and a culture rich in history and diversity, why is this foreign language not offered at PLNU?

Jamie Shatwell, ASL Department Chair and professor at Grossmont College, a San Diego community college known for its online ASL program, explains how she sees the value in offering this option for students.  ASL has community, culture and history, just like any other world language. Offering this learning opportunity to students on campus would help bring more awareness and recognition to this existing community.

“Some may not be aware that ASL is a foreign language,” Shatwell said.

As some school administrators may not realize that ASL is the same as a foreign language, others might fear losing other language programs by adding ASL options.

“Some [programs] might say [they are] scared [they] will lose Spanish classes [and that they] will lose students,” Shatwell said.

Another facet of adding ASL courses is the value of inclusivity. Shatwell says it’s important to bring the deaf and hearing communities together to help communicate.

“If they [school administrators] believe it is important to have a community together, then bring ASL. Don’t reject the deaf and hard of hearing community,” Shatwell said.

When it comes to why ASL has not yet been integrated into PLNU’s curriculum, Dean of the Colleges and Vice-Provost James Daichendt says an absence of effort might be to blame.

“Maybe it’s the lack of a champion overall – the only times we see [a push for ASL,] it’s from someplace else,” Daichendt said.

For Point Loma to create any new classes, there must be a demand. Daichendt explains that any time there has been an interest in bringing ASL to Point Loma, it has been from a student who has taken it elsewhere. In full disclosure, that is the situation I have found myself in. Although the lack of action within the Point Loma student body is part of the problem, he says the student interest is there.

“If you went across campus and you polled, I think there would probably be a really large interest,” Daichendt said.

Daichendt attributes university hesitations surrounding ASL to the slow nature of change within higher education.

“Anytime you introduce something new into a university context, folks get nervous. Universities tend to move slowly,” Daichendt said.

Daichendt does not believe it would take away from other language classes because these programs already have a large number of student registration, to the point where schools cannot offer enough opportunities to meet foreign language requirements. PLNU currently offers Spanish, French, Greek, German and Hebrew classes.

As Point Loma claims they want to work towards inclusion, efforts made towards the deaf community are not evident. Daichendt says one solution could be educating the public on this topic.

Daichendt explains how liberal arts universities allow for a greater number of perspectives to be shared.

If we were just business and biology, it would be a different university, but we have the arts, we have music – these mixed classes add to that rich experience,” Daichendt said.          

It appears evident that more student activism is needed if ASL classes are going to be at PLNU. Although this effort might have stalled once by the American Sign Language Club’s inactive listing on the ASB website. If the student interest can take action in creating a demand, then maybe school administration will feel the need to find ways to bring ASL to students.

By: Kyle Alderman