Kean’s ASL club bridges deaf and hearing communities

The logo for the ASL Club at Kean University Credit: Jack Tomey

The logo for the ASL Club at Kean University Credit: Jack Tomey

By Rafaela Teixeira | Published Sept. 27, 2017

In American Sign Language (ASL), facial expression, eyebrow movement, and body language are essential in communication.

ASL is its own language with its own grammar rules and sentence structure, making it different from other languages, such as English.

In English, one can say “I’m annoyed”, but in ASL, one can express these feelings with visible motion.

In addition to learning how to sign, students learn about Deaf Culture and the Deaf Community at Kean University.

“A challenge for me when learning ASL was maintaining an awareness of my emerging skills and knowing questions are encouraged”, said ASL Instructor Jennifer Stack. “The Deaf Community is approachable and understanding; they embrace new learners of ASL. It is a refreshing aspect of this unique culture.”

Kean University’s School of Communication Disorders and Deafness has an ASL department located in room 204A at East Campus.

The diverse faculty consists of hearing and Deaf instructors, and interpreters.

Kean offers ASL as a minor degree. Students must complete 18 credits for a degree that includes courses like ASL I,II,III,IV, as well as three classes that lecture on Deaf Culture.

There are currently over 175 students enrolled in ASL courses this Fall semester.

Although students of any major are welcome to learn ASL, majors such as Education, Speech Pathology, and Special Education are among the few that will benefit from learning this skill.

Students often resist learning this language because they may feel intimidated, shy, or afraid of the course load.

“Students shouldn’t be scared to learn ASL”, said Jack Tomy, ASL student and Director of Public Relations for the ASL Club at Kean University. “It takes hard work and dedication, but once you start learning, you become receptive. It’s really something you enjoy learning”.

Classrooms have up to 15 students and the chairs are positioned in the shape of the letter “U”. This is beneficial because professors are able to teach this visual language and help students advance their skill. Students also learn from their peers as the progress of the class is a group effort.

“I am able to fully dive in and maintain connections and get involved with the Deaf Community, but the challenge is not being too over-eager and putting myself in situations that my skill set is not ready for,” said Tomy.

Many hearing students get their start with ASL through different outlets, whether it be media, personal connections, or individual interest.

ASL has grown rapidly in the arts recently. For example, the Freeform television series Switched at Birth, and other series such as Dancing with the Stars, America’s Got Talent, and Broadway musical Spring Awakening all feature Deaf people.

ASL Coordinator Marybeth Imsho is a self taught, Kean University alumni who was mentored by other professors in ASL.

“Something that hasn’t been done until recently in the department is holding classes during the summer, taught by Professor Stack and myself and Saturday classes this semester taught by Deaf professor Matthew Runyon”, said Imsho.

The ASL club focuses on bringing awareness to the language, Deaf Community, and Deaf Culture. They want to create a bridge between the Deaf and hearing communities to bring them together. Anyone is welcome to partake in this, those who are interested and those who are already involved.

The ASL club also promotes the department to the student body. Although instructors also promote, they felt it is important for students to get involved in “picking up the baton and running with it”.

There are Deaf events held in the North New Jersey and the New York area and some being held here, at Kean University.

On November 10, 2017, comedian Wink, who is a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), will perform in the Little Theatre at the Miron Student Center.

This year the club is also being prevalent in their use of social media. Anyone interested in learning and being a part of this community can head over to their accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Kean University’s American Sign Language Club @kuaslclub on Facebook, @kean_aslclub on Twitter, and @ku_aslclub on Instagram.

Meetings are held during college hour (3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m.) at East Campus room 145.

Learning sign language allows for a stronger community where different people can come together and go beyond the ability to communicate, but to work and create together.

There have been students that have turned their skill in sign language into a career, but many have been able to apply it to their other passions in life and have developed a sense of compassion and empathy towards Deaf Culture.

“Students no longer view Deaf people with sympathy, but have a greater understanding and instead show interest in interacting with them and being a part of this community”, said Tomy.

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