ASL classes reopened to all, following spring rally

Amy Cooknick

American Sign Language courses are once again open to all Kent State students.

Last April, students in the ASL program organized the “Silent Standoff” rally outside Satterfield Hall to protest the proposed restriction of ASL courses to ASL majors and minors only.

The protest resulted in an announcement that ASL courses would be reopened to non-majors in August after all ASL major and minors had scheduled their required courses.

“We made shirts. We made signs,” said Bethany Stahler, senior ASL major. “We met at Risman Plaza and then walked to Satterfield. We just basically were trying to get the word out and trying to get as much support as possible. And as of right now, we are happy about the results of the rally.”

Stahler, and four other students created the group “Silent Standoff” in late February to oppose the rumored restrictions.

“The same thing happened in Akron where they cut (the ASL program) down, and now it’s gone,” Stahler said. “We did not want that to happen here.”

Stahler said the ASL students emailed Jennifer Larson of the Modern and Classical Languages Department to ask for ASL courses to be kept open to all students.

Larson sent her first response to the group March 2, stating ASL courses would neither be eliminated, nor reduced to one teacher for the whole program, as was rumored.

However, cuts were in effect.

“Everybody was getting cut, but ASL was getting cut the most,” Stahler said. “That affects everybody — not just the majors. Anybody can use (ASL) in any field because you never know when you’re going to interact with a deaf person.”

March 2 was also the launch date for Silent Standoff’s online petition to “save” the ASL program. Between March 2 and May 1, the group collected 1,807 signatures from around the globe in support of maintaining the ASL program for all students.

“We contacted everybody from MSNBC to CNN to local Cleveland stations to Black Squirrel Radio and the Daily Kent Stater,” Stahler said.

This led not only to signatures, but also to a national radio interview with deaf needs advocate Keith Wann and articles in the Record-Courier and Akron Beacon Journal.

After meeting with Larson during the April 14 rally, Stahler and fellow Silent Standoff founder Drew Hellebrand, said they are still satisfied this semester with the final response from Larson, but plan to continue the work begun in the spring.

“Our next goal is to work on bridging the gap between Arts and Sciences and the College of Education,” Stahler said. “(Currently,) if you want to be an ASL teacher, you’re in Arts and Sciences. If you want to be an interpreter, you’re in White Hall. I don’t know why they’re separated.”

Hellebrand, senior justice studies major, agreed.

“We just want those majoring in the program to continue providing feedback to the department (and) to continue having deaf teachers,” Hellebrand said. “There have been some improvements already just since last semester as far as things with lab hours. Last semester, it was very difficult to get in there to do the work that was needed.”

This semester, the ASL Laboratory is open 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday as opposed to sporadic hours Monday through Thursday in Fall 2010.

Hellebrand said the meeting with Larson resulted in a compromise where ASL students take priority when scheduling ASL classes, but non-majors can fill remaining seats.

“Classes are cut, but it’s open to more (students),” Stahler said.

Larson wrote in an email that vacant seats in ASL classes were opened to all non-major students in August.

“I don’t have the information to hand about how many non-ASL-related major/minor students are in our current sections,” Larson wrote. “I’ve not received complaints about lack of access to ASL.”

Larson could not be reached for further comment.

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected].