Riess dispels rumors about ASL program’s discontinuation

Concerns about the adjunct professor budget in the fall of 2015 led to the decision to put the American Sign Language program at Allegheny College on a one-year hiatus. By Feb. 24, 2016, Provost and Dean of the College Ron Cole evaluated the budget and was able to keep the ASL program for the 2016-17 academic year.

“I waited this year until I had an understanding of what potential courses we needed to fill with an adjunct position,” Cole said. “There were fewer adjunct needs than in the past.”

Some students enrolled in the ASL program have voiced concerns about the program being cut next academic year, but Barbara Riess, chair of the modern and classical languages department, said that is no longer the case.

“It is a rumor,” Riess said. “The department had to look at places where we can support growing languages and grow languages like Chinese and Arabic. So we had to actually make a choice…these American Sign Language courses didn’t support a language major or minor, [it] was not on any other people’s radar. So in having to make a choice between whether supporting the programs that we have or not, we decided to give the ASL program a year hiatus to deal with the budget shortfall that the college is facing at this time.”

Prior to reevaluating the budget, cutting ASL had the fewest consequences for other programs on campus, according to Riess. ASL functions as an individual program composed of two classes not connected to other areas of study.

Currently ASL resides under The Center for Language and Culture, with CLC 100 Sign Language I being offered in the fall and CLC 200 Sign Language II being offered in the spring. Eight students were enrolled in the program in the fall of 2015, with six students continuing in the spring of 2016. The class has a cap of 20 students.

“The Center for Language and Culture is a space designed for us to introduce the teaching of languages outside of our major, minor programs,” Reiss said. “So for example, Arabic and Chinese began in the Center for Language and Culture.”

Allyson Roach, ’16, sees the CLC designation as limiting the program’s potential.

“I think the problem with people not being interested is because it’s not widely known that the class is offered,” Roach said. “Like, it’s not under the languages category on WebAdvisor. It’s under CLC so if you don’t know what that means or to look there then you’re never going to know that the class is offered anyway.”

Roach has been formally studying ASL at Allegheny since the fall, but has had experience with sign language since she was a child.

“My cousin couldn’t communicate when she was younger by language so we learned sign language to communicate with her,” Roach said. “I just learned it by watching people.”

Roach hopes to go into social work after graduation and believes sign language is an important mode of communication in that field.

“You have to work with kids in special ed so that’s why I took it,” she said.

Katie McMurray, ’16, also began studying ASL in the fall and is enrolled in the spring course alongside Roach and four other classmates.

“I took it because I thought it would be fun, mostly,” McMurray said. “When I was little I learned baby signs. So like the alphabet, my name, food. I just thought it would be cool. I’m from Rochester, New York and there’s a large population of deaf people there. There’s a school for the deaf in the city…I just thought it would be useful I guess.”

The ASL courses meet once a week on Thursdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Students enrolled in the course are expected to be self-starters, studying the material on a daily basis. Because of this expectation, Riess explained that first-year students are not allowed to enroll in ASL.

“The program is not for everybody, but those who enter it end up transformed,” Riess said.