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May 7, 2003

University still won't allow ASL as language

From: Oregon Daily Emerald, OR - May 7, 2003

An event on Thursday aimed at raising deaf awareness will try to prove ASL is a language and should be recognized as such

Roman Gokhman
Campus/City Culture Reporter
May 07, 2003

Next fall, Jacqueline Hurst will enter the University to get a bachelor of arts degree in education. However, she will not be able to complete the standard foreign language requirement because she cannot enunciate what her instructors say. At age 30, Hurst is slowly but surely going deaf. With other deaf students at the University, Hurst is helping convince the University administration to accept American Sign Language as a foreign language.

Although many schools around the country accept ASL as a substitute to the requirement, and Oregon Statute 351.117 states that ASL satisfies second language requirements in Oregon University System schools, the University has balked at
making such a decision.

Organizers of Celebrating Deaf Culture, an event planned for Thursday to raise awareness of a deaf culture on campus, want to prove that ASL is a language and needs to be recognized as such.

"It's hard for me to understand why ASL is not accepted as a second language," Hurst said. "I worked really hard to get where I am -- nothing is going to stop me."

In May, Hurst was granted a waiver on her language requirement for her University degree. Instead of two years of a foreign language, she only needs to take two ASL courses to complete her four-year degree. However, if she transfers to another school or attends graduate school, the requirement will go unfulfilled.

"ASL is being more and more used," she said. "Kids can sign before they can speak."

Hurst has been losing her hearing for seven years after having a tumor removed from her right ear. She has been using hearing aids for almost three years and is losing 10 percent to 15 percent of her hearing every year.

"Even if you have a disability, you can still get things accomplished," Hurst said. "Celebrating Deaf Culture is about being visible to the community and each other."

Sariantra Kali, an event organizer and a post-baccalaureate student, said she has heard different reasons for ASL going unrecognized, but all are unsubstantiated.

"I've heard students say that members of the foreign language department have said that American Sign Language is not a language," Kali said, adding that other reasons include that ASL does not have a written history, that there is no deaf culture, and that ASL is "just English on the hands."

According to a 2002 Emerald article, the ASUO Student Senate passed a resolution in March 2002 recognizing ASL as a foreign language, but only the Undergraduate Council has the power to make that decision and officially recognize ASL as a foreign language. According to council minutes, while the issue was discussed extensively during the 2001-02 school year, it hasn't been brought up since October.

Council member and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies Karen Sprague said the 2001-02 academic year ended before council members had a chance to complete their discussions.

"It will ultimately get picked up, but not this year," Sprague said, adding that ASL cannot be addressed separately from discussions about the entire foreign language requirement, which will probably be considered sometime next year. The council will discuss its goals for an improved foreign language program and whether ASL can be a part of it, Sprague said.

Kali and Hurst said they hope a decision can be made as soon as possible. Kali has obtained more than 1,000 signatures for a petition that will be sent to the Undergraduate Council and President Dave Frohnmayer.

"This language has syntax and structure -- it is a language, and it should be recognized," Hurst said.

© 2003 Oregon Daily Emerald