After several attempts to make American Sign Language (ASL) a part of the foreign language general education requirement, the Faculty Senate met yesterday to vote on this proposal.
The motion was passed unanimously by the faculty senators.
The request, presented by the General Education Committee, highlighted the benefits of including ASL as an accepted foreign language.
David Dutton, president and founder of Talk to the Hand, the ASL club on campus, was the student advocate for this motion.
After the meeting, Dutton said he was “very ecstatic.”
“It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for. All my work paid off,” Dutton said. “I’m glad everyone was willing to listen.”
The proposal now allows students to transfer credits of ASL from other institutions or pass an ASL proficiency test, the Sign Communication Proficiency Interview, to obtain the general education requirement of having a second language.
At the meeting, General Education Committee member Mary Beth Matthews, an assistant professor of religion, put an emphasis on the requirements in the Academic Catalog.
“Our general education requirements do not read that you must know a foreign language,” Matthews said. She went on to specify that the guidelines stated that students must reach the intermediate level of a second language, which does not need to be specifically foreign.
“[ASL] is not merely a visual representation of English,” Matthews said.
Dutton presented a PowerPoint to the senators, in which he hoped to “provide necessary information to make an informed decision.”
He showed the senators Objective 3.E of the UMW Strategic Plan approved by the Board of Visitors, which stated the desire to “enhance diversity in curriculum.”
Leah Cox, assistant dean of Academic Services and the director of the James Farmer Scholars Program, was also there to support Dutton.
She has previously worked at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., which specifically accommodates deaf and hard of hearing students, according to the university Web site.
“It is definitely a second language,” Cox said while addressing the senators.
“I’m excited,” Cox said about the vote. However, she thinks offering ASL classes is a “long ways away.”
In 1996, the Virginia General Assembly passed the House Joint Resolution No. 228, which requested “public schools and public and private institutions of higher education in Virginia to recognize American Sign Language (ASL) course work for foreign language credit,” according to a memorandum from William C. Bosher, Jr., former superintendent of public instruction in Virginia.
Other Virginia universities that already accept ASL credit include George Mason University, Radford University, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.
However, before the vote some senators were uneasy about the proposal.
Main complaints that arose regarding the change was that the budget would not allow the inclusion of ASL courses at UMW. Another concern that was addressed by department representatives was how to test the proficiency of the language.
Modern Foreign Languages Representative and assistant professor of Spanish Jeremy Larochelle said his department was in support of the motion. Previously, the department was split as to whether ASL should be considered a foreign language.
“One member’s concern is not the whole department,” Larochelle said when senators brought up the fact that some members of his department were hesitant to the cause.
Despite these concerns, Dutton is appreciative of all the people who helped him achieve this.
“I could not have done it alone,” Dutton said. “I don’t want full credit, it really was the faculty and staff.”