We believe that there should be more ASL classes offered at Middlebury, a school renowned for its language programs. The fact that there is only a winter term option shows that Middlebury is not putting in the work to hire Deaf professors and make the school more accessible to hearing-impaired people. We've written a letter, with the text as follows, so please add your name and year as a signature!
"To the Academic Admin of Middlebury College (attn: Susan Gurland):
We believe that there should be more American Sign Language (ASL) classes offered at Middlebury College. Currently, the only option available is a 4-week condensed ASL 1 class offered in J-Term. This means that only about 20 students can engage with the language each year, and there are no opportunities to continue our ASL education after the completion of the course, or progress beyond a rudimentary level of understanding. While there is an ASL club on campus, this does not equate to a full semester’s worth of learning.
Middlebury College is renowned for its language programs, but its ASL program is severely lacking. According to the Modern Language Association, ASL is the third-most studied language in higher education, with 7% of college students. ASL is more studied than many of the spoken languages offered at Middlebury, such as Chinese, Arabic, and Russian which are numbers 7, 8, and 10 respectively.
Additionally, the demand for more ASL classes exists. The winter term class has been offered for more than five years, and every single time it fills quickly and has a very long waitlist. While adding more kids into the class may be possible for other types of classes, you need to be able to see everyone else in the room to have an effective ASL class. Other universities and colleges offer ASL programs with a lot of success. For example, UVM recently added an ASL program that is now extremely popular, with 16 courses and over 250 students enrolled in them every semester. While Middlebury is much smaller than UVM, the demand for more ASL classes exists and an expansion is in order.
Another aspect of the lack of ASL classes offered is the marked difference in quality between ASL language tables and other language tables. First, they are offered only during the month of January when the ASL course is running, which doesn’t allow for continued practice and learning. These lunches do not have the benefit of a waiter who has even a rudimentary understanding of ASL. This ignores one of the fundamental aspects of language tables and disadvantages ASL students who wish to practice the language in a way offered to other students enrolled in language courses at Middlebury.
Providing ASL classes would also help those with various learning styles choose a language that is best suited to them. For instance, those who are visual and/or kinesthetic learners may struggle with spoken languages, but the completely visual language of ASL may be much easier for them to master.
In addition to widening the languages offered at Middlebury, offering ASL classes can help to deconstruct some of the numerous systematic barriers that many Deaf people face. The social model of disability posits that disability is not inherent, but rather created by the environment/society. Based on this, we believe that having more exposure with ASL and more people who are able to communicate in ASL would break down some of the barriers that prohibit Deaf people from interacting and communicating with others, including making it more possible for Deaf students to attend Middlebury, since only 30% of Deaf students complete a four-year degree, as opposed to 70% of hearing students. Despite being a school that preaches diversity, there are also no full-time Deaf professors at Middlebury. Middlebury could contribute to changing these statistics by hiring Deaf professors and ensuring a space that is welcoming and accessible to Deaf people, students and non-students alike.
In short, if Middlebury wants to contribute to the destabilization of current systems that render many people “disabled,” it should create more opportunities for its students to learn ASL. ASL would further diversify Middlebury’s language programs and make language, and Middlebury itself, more accessible for visual learners and hearing impaired folks. The demand exists; now it's time to expand the program.
The signed students"
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