Outside of the American Sign Language classes, there is a whole community of deaf and hard.of-hearing people whose culture can be spread. The ASL Club, founded in 2020 by current alum Meaghan Reilly, is dedicated to practicing signing and being more knowledgeable on the deaf community.
Jessica Komacki, a senior communication disorders major, was the club’s previous treasurer, and is currently the president of the ASL Club. She says she thinks the deaf/hard-of.hearing community is underrepresented on campus.
“More awareness could be brought to this population,” says Komacki. She says she had never heard of anything about the deaf community until she started taking ASL classes.
“In the hearing world the majority of people don’t necessarily know about deaf culture and what that means, so we [the ASL Club] try our best to spread awareness of that,” Komacki says.
Ellen Stansfield, a senior special education major, agrees with Komacki’s stance on the deaf community’s representation on campus.
Stansfield, former ASL Club president, also has never seen anything on campus that sticks out to her as meant for a person that is hard-of-hearing. She says she had an experience on campus with a professor claiming sign language is not really a language at all and is just hand gestures. Regardless of what he says, Stansfield wants it to be known that it is in fact a language.
“It is well seen so many places, there are so many different types of sign language,” Stansfield says. “It needs to be brought and seen as a language because others don’t realize.”
Stansfield says the purpose of starting the ASL Club was to have a place where people could meet outside of the classroom and to bring more exposure to sign language.
Being a part of the club helps keep up the members’ ASL skills. Not practicing sign language for extended periods of time leads to slowly losing the skill. “I wanted to keep my ASL skills up because if you stop using them you lose it, you forget about certain signs. You want to keep going with it to stay proficient or at your level,” Stansfield says.
The ASL Club does not teach sign language but encourages club members to help each other use it. The club has resources, located on its Instagram @aslclubatscsu, that can help beginners learn more about the language and the culture. These sources include ASL TikTokers and YouTubers, ASL movies and TV shows and videos on deaf culture.
“We’re not there to teach you ASL because we have classes for that, but we really want you to be able to walk out being like, oh my god! I learned a sign today that was so fun,” Stansfield says.
The club welcomes everyone, no matter how much or how little they know about signing.
Due to COVID-19, the club had to move meetings online, however, because ASL is a very visual language, meetings online present challenges like freezing Wi-Fi and other technical issues.
“Online [meetings] really takes away from the whole experience. It’s just not as connected as it can be if you were in-person,” Stansfield says.
Not only has COVID-19 negatively affected the club, but it has impacted the hard-of-hearing community as well. Having hearing impairments can cause a reliance on lip reading. Due to mask mandates, it makes it impossible to read lips when they are covered by fabric. Even as someone with hearing, Stansfield still reads people’s lips as she talks to people.
“I have pretty good hearing and I always lip read, so having a mask for me is difficult and I’m not even somebody who really relies on it,” says Stansfield.
At Southern all the professors teaching American Sign Language are deaf and native ASL users.
Prof. Michael Posner was born deaf and says Southern has been helpful in ensuring his success as an ASL professor.
“We have a wonderful staff of excellent, veteran instructors who work so tirelessly to teach the language to our students. We also offer a three-course sequence that is effective in the sense that it benefits everyone in becoming connected with the deaf community,” says Posner.
The ASL Club has helped build connections with the ASL professors who also come to meetings.
“It was so much fun [when professors came to meetings] because they’re going crazy signing to each other, and we’re just watching it all like, ‘wow,’” says Stansfield. “You’re catching bits and pieces of it because they’re signing so quickly.”
Komacki hopes the club could have a few professors come and speak about their experiences and thoughts on the deaf community here at Southern.
In the future, Komacki wants the club to have a larger outreach to more students. She hopes to acquire more members so the club can hold larger events on campus.
By Hailey Roy