ASL students discuss the value of certificate and minor programs at the UI
Monday, April 25, 2016

American Sign Language (ASL) has found its way into the hearts, minds, and course schedules of many University of Iowa students. The UI offers both a minor and certificate in ASL and Deaf Studies. Sophomore and ASL/Deaf Studies certificate student Emily Boylan says the more advanced classes have solidified her love for the language.

“I actually chose Iowa because they had a sign language program here,” she says.

AmyRuth McGraw, ASL director of undergraduate studies, says students who pursue the minor are gain a lot of skills and language fluency, and students pursuing the certificate learn how to apply their knowledge of ASL and deaf culture to other disciplines. But above all, McGraw says, what she hopes students take away from the program is an altered sense of what is “normal.”   

“For us, community is important. We want to create community in the classroom; we want to create community in the program, so that students feel like they belong,” she says. “It’s sort of like a lovely never-ending cycle where you feel like you belong, so then you invest of your time and your energy.”

This concept of community is practiced by students in the ASL club. Members conduct meetings in sign language, which gives students a chance to have fun while practicing their language skills. ASL Club President Shannon Koppes says the group often defies people’s expectations.

“A misconception of our club is that our meetings are silent, which isn’t the case. There’s laughter, there’s rustling of chairs. It can be pretty loud actually, especially if we get going with a fun game like charades or telephone,” she says.

Those unfamiliar with ASL might think it’s just “English on the hands,” but it is as distinct as any spoken foreign language and requires a great deal of dedication in order to learn. But Koppes says the fulfillment of being immersed in a new culture is well worth the effort that comes with this commitment.

“My whole ASL experience here has really just broadened my awareness of how we’re all different people, but we all really just want the same things. We all want to communicate and have shared experiences with one another,” Koppes says. “We all want to tell our stories.”