Students To Vote on Reintroducing American Sign Language Courses

UPDATED: April 8, 2014, at 12:38 p.m.

Starting on April 21, undergraduates will be able to vote on the only question on the Undergraduate Council’s spring referendum generated by a student petition—whether or not to support the reintroduction of American Sign Language courses that may be taken for credit.

A petition led by Erica X Eisen ’16, a Crimson Arts Chair, and Julia B. Hyman ’15 garnered 704 votes, surpassing the 670 signature threshold required for a question to be placed on the ballot, according to UC Rules Committee Chair Kevin H. Xiong ’17.

In their 300-word pro statement, Eisen and Hyman emphasized the importance of ASL, but noted obstacles students currently face in learning the language.

“ASL is a beautiful, unique language with a culture and literature all its own—but Harvard students currently taking ASL must pay out of pocket to take weekend classes organized by PBHA's Committee on Deaf Awareness (CODA). Students receive no academic credit for enrollment in these classes,” they wrote.

Despite high student demand, the Linguistics Department eliminated its two introductory sign language courses in 1994, citing budget constraints.

Julian Guy ’16, a former University Initiatives Coordinator for the CODA said that reintroducing the course at the College would attract more students and allow them to study the language more closely.

“Having a rigorous course would be the best way to ensure that people are actually going to be able to learn the language...at a full level,” Guy said.

Hyman, who serves as director of the CODA, noted that even though many students may want to take ASL courses, it is difficult for them to do so.

“It's very hard for students to be able to get to a Sunday class and one that is for no course credit is hard for Harvard students to be able to fit in their schedule, even if it’s something that is important,” Hyman said, adding that the CODA has been working for several years to reintegrate ASL classes into the course catalog.

Dhruv P. Goyal ’16, UC Education Committee chair, said that although the committee has not been in contact with the petition organizers, he agrees that the effort would be an “absolutely fantastic” means of equipping students with sign language communication skills.

Because of changes made last year in the UC’s referenda procedure, in order for the Council to immediately adopt the voter’s response to the question as its official stance, at least half the student body must participate in the election.

Before the question goes on the ballot, the UC will solicit a 300-word con statement from students and collaborate with the Institute of Politics to edit the question and statements to ensure neutral wording.

Although the deadline for petitions has passed, individual UC representatives may submit additional referenda questions to the Council.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at noah.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

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