American Sign Language could be a recognized foreign language at SU by 2021

American Sign Language could be a recognized foreign language at SU

University officials move forward with efforts to include sign language in foreign language programs.
Published: October 11, 2020
American Sign Language could be a recognized foreign language at SU by 2021

The push to recognize American Sign Language as a foreign language at Syracuse University might see a breakthrough in 2021.

For years, there has been a movement to recognize ASL as a foreign language, which would allow any student at SU to take ASL courses to fulfill language requirements.

Dean of the School of Education Joanna Masingila said a task force with members from the School of Education and the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at the College of Arts and Sciences recommended a faculty member with expertise in the field be hired to oversee the process. The soonest the position could be filled would be 2021.

“We had a search last year,” Masingila said. “We had actually reached an agreement with a finalist that we wanted to bring to campus and then COVID came and so it was paused.”

Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Chris Johnson said both the College of Education and Arts and Sciences agreed they needed to recognize ASL as a foreign language but there have been obstacles in the hiring process.

“In large part it has been stalled because of difficulties in identifying a suitable candidate to lead the effort,” Johnson said. “The College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Education came to an agreement relatively quickly to search for a new faculty member who would build out a curriculum.”

ASL is its own language and not a direct translation from English. It is the primary language used in North America by the Deaf community, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Some in the Deaf community prefer ASL, others prefer captioning, which is written English. Others also draw from both.

Masingila said recognizing ASL as a foreign language would be the first step toward an expanded program with additional courses on topics such as deaf culture. The faculty member hired would work with a team to build a proposal to achieve this.

“I think it could expand the offerings and certainly having the opportunity for people to become more familiar with American Sign Language,” Masingila said.

Previously a three-credit course, ASL was approved to be a four-credit elective course in 2013. The Student Association began lobbying for its recognition as a foreign language in 2018. At a recent SA assembly meeting, SA President Justine Hastings said SA is working with the appropriate colleges to see this effort through.

Hastings acknowledged in an interview that the effort to recognize ASL at SU is not new.

“This is something that the SA has been pushing for a while now,” Hastings said.

Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Karin Ruhlandt said in a statement to The NewsHouse that SU is committed to expanding access to ASL on campus.

“This hire will be key to expanding access and inclusion,” Ruhlandt said. “And making our community more accessible for all students, faculty and staff, not only in Arts and Sciences and the School of Ed, but campuswide as well.”