Speaking up for those who cannot

Jessica Bollinger

As a part of their mission statement as a university, SPU wishes to engage the culture, but on April 16, a group of students on campus questioned this mission, wondering if SPU truly does engage all cultures on campus.

Lead by ASSP Vice President of Intercultural Affairs Melissa Del Rio, a group of students came together to promote adding American Sign Language (ASL) classes to the curriculum, as well as raise awareness about the importance of American Sign Language not only on campus but in the greater Seattle area too.

“Our mission is to generate and document student interest in having ASL classes offered at SPU,” senior Abbey Brandt said . “We hope to show upper administration that there is a demand for these courses and that they should consider working to bring ASL to SPU.”

American Sign Language, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), is a complete, complex language that employs signs made by moving the hands and is combined with facial expressions and postures of the body.

Not all forms of sign language are the same, but the most commonly used form in North America is ASL. Though there is no exact beginning of ASL, according to NIDCD, there are some suggestions that it came about around 200 years ago and is an intermixing of, at the time, local and French Sign Language.

“Something people may not realize is that ASL classes greatly increase accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing students. I think we tend to assume that they already have mastered sign language, when in reality, they would benefit from the classes just as much,” Brandt said.

As a group, the students not only hope to generate interest in ASL classes, but they also hope to enable students to engage with the greater Seattle deaf community, increase enrollment at SPU and improve accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing students who currently are not fluent in ASL.

Junior Mary Kate Gleason, was quite excited when she first heard about this group. When she was young, it was discovered that she was hard-of-hearing, and her parents began to teach her ASL.

“I think the classes would be a great and eye opening,” Gleason said. “You are not just learning a new language, but you are also learning about a new culture.”

Having learned ASL first, and learning to speak English later as a toddler, and in school Gleason had to learn how to advocate for herself.

One frustration she has had while attending school is the obstacles she feels she has to go through to get accommodations for her hearing. Many times, she feels like there were many hoops she had to jump through to even just get an interpreter at SPU events.


“Many of the frustrations come from trying to get accommodations and it comes off as if it is not a priority,” Gleason said.

When Gleason first came to campus she felt like she was the only one who was hard of hearing, she felt like it was not talked about enough.

“Sometimes people don’t know, not that they are uneducated, they just don’t know how big the deaf community is,” Gleason said.

According to the senate committee advocating for deaf and hard-of-hearing culture, they want students and administration to be more aware of their presence on campus and to realize, as Gleason said, that the deaf and hard-of-hearing community on campus makes up a sizeable amount of the student population.

“Having ASL as a part of the curriculum at SPU will help the community flourish to its highest potential,” Brandt added.

As of right now there is a petition online calling for members of the SPU community to come together and help these students bring a larger awareness to the importance of ASL, as well as help these students show the administration their goal to document student interest in ASL courses and build a community of support.

“To me, honestly, what’s important is an awareness of an invisible culture,” Gleason said.