The Student Assembly unanimously voted to call upon the University to expand course offerings on American Sign Language and allow students to place out of their foreign language requirements using ASL proficiency in a Thursday meeting.
If approved by President Martha E. Pollack, the resolution will “allow for American Sign Language to fulfill a foreign language requirement” by expanding ASL course offerings and hiring the faculty necessary to evaluate ASL proficiency of students seeking to opt out of their language requirement.
Eighty-two percent of the student body said that ASL should “satisfy the foreign language requirement at Cornell” in a 2016 S.A. referendum, while a 2016 poll conducted by Cornell University Deaf Awareness Project indicated that 57 percent of the respondents would want to take an ASL course according to the resolution addendum.
Currently, three other Ivy league universities — Brown University, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University — offer at least a sequence of two introductory ASL courses, according to the addendum. Meanwhile, Cornell offers one ASL course and only during the summer, according to the course roster.
“Compared to other universities in the Ivy League, Cornell provides fewer resources to learn ASL and is less accommodating to students who have already taken ASL courses,” the addendum read.
Resources currently dedicated to ASL education are so minimal that there are currently no professors at Cornell who can evaluate students’ ASL proficiency so that they can place out of the language requirement.
“We are calling for the right for Cornellians to place out using ASL the same way they can with a spoken language that is taught at Cornell, (the only thing preventing this currently is that there is no ASL professor to test them),” Katie Dillon, secretary at Cornell University Deaf Awareness Project, wrote to The Sun.
The lack of adequate resources for learning ASL had led to life threatening situations in the past, according to Joyce Muchan ’96, assistant director for student development at the Cornell Public Service Center.
“In 2000, there was a fire in Ithaca where firemen could not communicate with the residents,” Muchan said. “While there were no fatalities, what became very clear is that Cornell was not involved in the Deaf community intensely and providing reinterpretation services.”
Diana Bartolotta, CUDAP co-president, shared her personal experience of being hard of hearing and said the lack of ASL courses at Cornell was “deeply upsetting.”
“Because of my condition I was really afraid to commit to Cornell,” Bartolotta said in a statement read at the assembly. “However I decided to attend Cornell because I was comforted by Cornell’s dedication and commitment to increase the diversity and inclusion of all its students … However we as a University can do more to improve the position of the Deaf community.”
The lack of adequate funding may present an obstacle to the establishment of an ASL program at Cornell according to CUDAP co-president Mary Grace Hager ’19.
“I have reached out to the College of Arts and Sciences already, and pretty much they were having trouble finding a specific department to house the classes in, because pretty much the funding is what it came down to,” Hager said. “Each department felt stretched very thin.”
In the event that funding is not immediately available, CAS, S.A. and CUDAP promised to work together to raise alumni donations to fund the program.
“If there is not sufficient funding to create the ASL program, the College of Arts and Sciences, representative of the Student Assembly, and representative of CUDAP will work with alumni affairs to secure sustainable funding for the program,” according to a resolution amendment read by Natalia Hernandez ’21, S.A. minority students liaison-at large.