When Simon Stumpf ’06 arrived at Yale for his first semester, he did not think to question the breadth of Yale’s academic opportunities. But Stumpf soon found that something was missing: a course in American Sign Language.
Having attended a high school that offered only three foreign languages, German, Spanish and American Sign Language, or ASL, Stumpf said he had not considered the possibility of not having the opportunity to continue studying sign.
“I always assumed it was something pretty normal or something people had access to,” Stumpf said. “I was more surprised than anything.”
As a result, Stumpf, who has a deaf younger brother, has resolved to try to create an ASL class at Yale.
While a demonstrated competency in ASL enables a student to pass out of Yale’s foreign language requirement, there are no ASL courses in the curriculum. Students can do independent studies involving sign language or can take a class at Dwight Hall for $100, Stumpf said.
But Stumpf said not many students wish to spend extra money or extra time on a course for which they will not receive credit.
To propose an ASL course, Stumpf must find a faculty or staff member to petition Yale’s Language Study Committee, or LSC. According to the LSC’s guidelines for proposing a new course, the LSC must approve the proposal and recommend it to the provost’s office, which makes the ultimate decision. The LSC considers factors including resources, funding, pedagogical materials and student demand in determining whether to support a new language, according to the LSC’s guidelines.
Nina Garrett, director of the Center for Language Study, said in an e-mail that ASL would be a good addition to Yale’s curriculum.
“I personally would be very happy if an ASL proposal could satisfy the Language Study Committee so that Yale could offer it,” Garrett said. “I’ve been fully convinced for more than 20 years that ASL is linguistically, psycholinguistically, sociolinguistically, and culturally a fascinating language in its own right. However, I can say the same about a lot of languages for which we can’t yet find the curricular context or funding!”
Judith York, director of the Resource Office on Disabilities, said in an e-mail that she supports teaching ASL at Yale.
“Personally and professionally, I would love to see sign language offered as a credit course. If offered, it might provide a skill to a student to speak with a neighbor, relative, or co-worker,” York said in an e-mail. “It could even turn into a job skill.”
Stumpf said he has not had faced many obstacles but still needs to find a faculty or staff member to petition the LSC for him. Stumpf said he is optimistic and is looking forward to future opportunities.
“When American Sign Language is finally offered here at Yale, it will not only be a chance for my fellow students to learn about this beautiful language and culture, but will give Yalies the opportunity to acknowledge and establish a signing community on our campus,” Stumpf said.
Some other universities already offer ASL courses.
Nicholas Paul Poulos, a sophomore at the University of Chicago, said he began taking ASL during his freshman year. He said in an e-mail that he enjoyed the course, in which students caught speaking are fined a nickel.