When considering world languages, for some, European languages might be the first the come to mind.
However, Perimeter College at Georgia State University also offers an associate’s degree in a pathway focusing on American Sign Language (ASL), providing an in-depth understanding and using those skills in allyship for the deaf community. Rick Robinson, the Associate Chair of Humanities who works with world languages which houses the ASL department.
“The deaf community has their own culture, and then they have their own language and they’re underrepresented” said Rick Robinson, Associate Chair of the Humanities Department at Perimeter. “People are often afraid to approach deaf people because they are afraid of not knowing the culture.”
“In the ASL program our courses are taught by an all deaf faculty through an immersion approach; the students do not hear spoken English in the classroom. On the first day of class an interpreter comes in to interpret the professors signing as far as the syllabus is concerned and after that it, is pure immersion,” Robinson shared.
This immersion approach is part of what makes the ASL program at Georgia State so special. After students complete the ASL pathway housed at Perimeter, they can attend interpretation courses and complete a bachelor’s degree.
“ASL students have required lab hours where they go to record their signing. The lab is staffed with deaf staff members and if you’re coming to learn you can immerse yourself in deaf culture.” Robinson concludes.
Melanie Lynn, an administrative secretary for the ASL program, began her journey when she completed the sign language interpreting program as a student in 2011.
“I started working here in 2015, and I love it because it marries the two things in my niche, which are customer service and signing,” Lynn said. “All of our team meetings are in full sign.”
At Georgia State, the ASL program taps into the cultural nuances and intersectional overlaps of the deaf community in Atlanta.
“The classes are focused on a conversational sign learning and include the rich history of the deaf community, and to understand the culture, the students are required to attend community events and activities,” Lynn said.
She explained that the cultural nuances as with any language and culture are deeply embedded in the programs and that is why there is an emphasis on the requirement to attend deaf-led events.
The ASL program at Georgia State puts a heavy emphasis on connectivity to the community especially if students are learning to sign to become interpreters, the priority is to understand and respect the community interpreters intend to serve as a whole.
One example of respect that ASL students are taught to show is how to act in situations where someone may need to gain the attention of a deaf person. The most commonly accepted route is to tap the person on the shoulder, and not on the back – and definitely not waving hands in front of the person’s face, something that’s considered disrespectful.
“There is emphasis on learning about the history because the deaf community as a whole is an oppressed group,” Lynn shared. “There was a time when signing was very much discouraged. I have heard stories from adults who were once not allowed to learn to sign, but once they had access to ASL, there was no turning back. It was leaps and bounds the best way for them to communicate.”