Cornell University’s Deaf Awareness Project performed interpretations of three popular songs in American Sign Language under the Balch Arch on Tuesday night to increase support for a Cornell ASL program.
The set list included “It’s Time,” “Shape of You” and “The Cup Song,” all performed in ASL, as a celebration of students finishing their prelim exams, said Mary Grace Hager ’19, president of CUDAP.
“This is our end-of-semester presentation,” Hager said. “We thought it would be fun to do an Arch Sign when freshmen are coming back from prelims.”
Juliet Remi ’20, outreach chair for CUDAP, said the performance was a good way to show Cornell students what the members are currently working on and to bring exposure to their cause.
The club is working to increase the resources available for students who are interested in learning ASL, chiefly through introducing ASL courses to the Cornell curriculum, Hager said. “This semester we passed a resolution through the Student Assembly to have ASL count as a foreign language and to establish an introductory course sequence,” Hager said. “We haven’t heard back from that yet, but we are hoping for news soon.” Pollack has not yet responded to that resolution, which the Student Assembly passed unanimously in March.
In a separate letter to President Pollack, Remi said, CUDAP wrote that the University is lagging behind peer institutions because, Dartmouth and Cornell are the only schools in the Ivy League that do not offer any ASL courses during the academic year.
She added that Ithaca College has a deaf studies minor and the Rochester Institute of Technology has a deaf studies program.
“We are trying to catch up regionally, and then among other areas, too,” Remi said. “At Cornell, we pride ourselves on ‘Any person, […] any study,’ [which means] having a diverse campus.”
Remi said that ASL introduces cultural diversity to Cornell through Deaf culture as well as increasing the accessibility of the University to Deaf individuals.
“People with hearing loss don’t just consider themselves to have a physical disability, they consider themselves as part of a cultural community based on ASL and Deaf education,” Remi said. “We think it’s important to introduce that sort of cultural component [to Cornell].”
She also said incorporating an ASL class would create a more diverse space on the Cornell campus, because it represents tangible progress in the disability community.
“If more people on campus were exposed to ASL, [a Deaf person] would feel more welcome here and less of an outsider,” Remi said. “We have an obligation to try to make the world as accessible as we can and introduce different forms of diversity in terms of ability, language and culture.”
Hager also emphasized that knowing ASL can be useful knowledge that allows us to understand other communities, which can help individuals in all aspects of their lives.
“There is going to be a day in your life when you are going to run into someone who is Deaf and, if you can sign to them, they are most likely going to be very excited about it,” Hager told the Sun. “I am speaking from my own experience and it makes me smile to think of how happy they were that I could talk to them.”