Student starts sign language interest group

Ashley Mancuso, COM 250 Reporter

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(L-R) Freshman Kelsey Doerr, Alyssa Beasley and Mary Clayton McClane show off their sign language skills by spelling ASL.

Although Berry does not offer sign language courses, freshman Kelsey Doerr saw an opportunity to use her skills and plans to start a sign language club. 

Thus far there has been interest in the club, but it is still in the planning phase and is not currently conducting meetings. When the sign language club holds its first meetings, it will be a recognized student interest group, Doerr said. As a student interest group, the sign language club can’t sponsor events, receive funds or have responsibilities associated with SGA, according to Director of Student Activities and Krannert Center Manager Cecily Crow. 

Club meetings will be a place that those with previous knowledge can use their skills so that they do not forget them. This will also be a place to teach sign language to students that would like to learn. 

“The goal may not be to become fluent in sign language, but I think taking and learning the basics, like the alphabet, is a nice step,” Doerr said. 

Sign language is accepted in lieu of a foreign language credit to get into Berry, but it does not satisfy the foreign language credit to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree. According to the Department Chair of World Languages and Culture Julia Barnes, sign language does not satisfy the foreign language requirement to graduate for two reasons: no one in the department is qualified to test students’ sign language knowledge, and Berry does not consider sign language a foreign language. 

As the sign language club is established and grows, there are many possibilities as to what they can do for the future of sign language at Berry. Berry’s foreign language department recently changed their name to the World Languages department. American Sign Language may not be a foreign language, but it is a world language. With students showing interest in the language, there is a possibility of it being offered in the future. 

“Deaf people are often a minority that we overlook just because we don’t feel comfortable, because we have that communication boundary,” Doerr said. “So, I think that just learning a little bit would be such a step that they would feel overjoyed to see that you’re just trying. You don’t have to be good.” 

The club would also like to connect with the deaf community. The Georgia School for the Deaf is located in Cave Springs, Ga, which is about 30 minutes away from Berry. According to Marie Dickinson, a teacher at the school, learning sign language opens the door into the deaf community, a rich and vibrant world populated by a diverse group of people. As a hearing person, she believes that she would miss out on the opportunity to know so many great people if she did not sign. 

Bobby Bond is also a teacher at the Georgia School of the Deaf. She grew up signing because her mother and father were deaf. Other family members could not directly communicate with her parents because they never learned sign language. 

“The burden shouldn’t always fall on the deaf person to try to communicate in the hearing person’s language,” Bond said.

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