[lg policy] CAS changes requirements for ASL as second language

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Oct 26 11:13:35 EDT 2018

-- CAS changes requirements for ASL as second language
October 25, 2018 12:38 am by Damian Walsh
A student in professor Andrew Bottom’s American Sign Language 5 class
practices signing. Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences will
count ASL as any other second language for its second language requirement.

Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences has enacted a new policy
updating the conditions for American Sign Language to fulfill CAS’s second
language requirement.

The previous policy required students to pass an extensive proficiency test
in addition to passing four semesters of ASL to fulfill the requirement.
Under the new policy
<http://www.bu.edu/wll/academics/cas-language-requirement/>, ASL students
do not have to take the extra proficiency test, which is not required by
other language departments.

Andrew Bottoms, a Deaf Studies professor at BU, said through an interpreter
that the new policy is important for recognition of ASL as a language.

“If it can meet the foreign language requirement, but somehow it’s seen as
different, and the requirements are not consistent with those of other
foreign languages, then it’s seen as sub-par,” Bottoms said. “That’s
concerning to me if we are not considering American Sign Language to be a
full-fledged language as any other foreign language.”

ASL course policies at universities across the country are inconsistent,
Bottoms said, with some allowing ASL to fulfill language requirements and
others only offering it as an elective.

Yale University recently instituted
ASL as part of its permanent curriculum, and Syracuse University’s Student
Association has started a petition
to recognize ASL as an official language across all of the university’s
colleges, rather than just its School of Education.

Bottoms said that people often assume ASL is simply broken English or
gestural communication, and they put it in a different category than other
languages because it lacks a written form. BU’s recognition of the language
is a significant step in the right direction, he said.

“The fact that our program recognized American Sign Language as a
full-fledged language is something that is very meaningful, and pushes us
forward in terms of social justice and how the world sees us,” Bottoms said.

The new policy treats ASL the same as all other language offerings, Joseph
Bizup, CAS’s associate dean for undergraduate academic programs and
policies, wrote in an email.

“ASL is not merely a signed version of English but a true language in its
own right: it has its own lexicon, morphology, syntax, even its own
dialects,” Bizup wrote. “It just makes sense to acknowledge this reality in
the Second Language requirement.”

Deaf Studies Club President Christine Cincotta, a CAS senior, said CAS
advisors dissuaded her from taking ASL when she first started at BU, citing
the difficulty of the proficiency test.

“I knew that I wanted to take ASL coming into BU,” Cincotta said. “I knew
that it was offered here, but I even got pushback at orientation from CAS
advisors, telling me that it might not be the easiest option.”

The new language requirement is similar to CAS’s former policy, Bizup
wrote. The most obvious change is in the wording, he wrote, as the
requirement now asks students to become proficient in a “second language”
rather than a “foreign language.”

“The change is consistent with the university’s global orientation,” Bizup
wrote. “In renaming the requirement, the College is recognizing and indeed
emphasizing that we live in a multilingual world.”

Though the change first took effect for the fall 2018 semester, the new
policy applies to continuing students as well as new students, Bizup wrote.

More than 200 students are enrolled in ASL courses at BU through the
Wheelock College of Education and Human Development, according to Bizup.
Bottoms said the university’s ASL matriculation has increased by
approximately 400 percent.

ASL course enrollment may increase with the removal of the proficiency
test, Bizup wrote.

Deaf Studies Club Vice President Rotceh Vazquez-Guzman, a Wheelock senior,
said she believes some students might not be aware that ASL is an option
for them to study.

“People do find out about it,” Vazquez-Guzman said, “but it is often
through people already knowing that they want to learn this language, and
then finding out about it on their own rather than the department or BU
itself telling them to take it.”

Both Cincotta and Vazquez-Goodman said they think the shift in CAS policy
is a step in the right direction.

Wheelock junior Melinda Chiang, an ASL student, wrote in an email that she
is happy that BU will now treat ASL as an official language.

“Those of us in ASL classes know it is just as much of language as any
other and have been positively impacted by it,” Chiang wrote. “This will
open doors to future/current students who have interest in ASL but strayed
away from it because of the exit exam.”

 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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