Every other Tuesday, students with varied levels of American Sign Language (ASL) experience come together in a welcoming environment, aiming to strengthen members’ knowledge about sign language and deaf culture.
The ASL Club at Ohio University works to include all who are interested in learning about sign language in its meetings and events. The club hosts numerous events and educational opportunities, such as silent dinners, “The Amazing Race” scavenger hunt, fundraising and more.
At silent dinners, members go out to dinner together to practice conversational sign language in a low-stakes environment. Participating in a silent dinner can be an eye-opening experience for all ASL students as they observe and practice primarily-signed conversation. Participants are encouraged to communicate without speaking throughout the event, regardless of their levels of experience.
“Typically, at our silent dinners, if you can't sign a word, it's not a big deal if you say it, but the goal is to make it through the whole dinner being silent,” Mia Caine, a senior studying psychology and co-president of the ASL club, said. “Those are some of my favorite events.”
Another major event that the ASL club hosts is its annual trip to Gallaudet University, a federally chartered private and premier university for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Jake Wendling, a graduate student studying integrated health and co-president of the ASL club, mentioned his favorite event with the ASL club was his experience on the trip to Gallaudet University the year before COVID-19 struck.
“We got to take a tour of Gallaudet,” Wendling said. “We met a bunch of deaf students. Our advisers on the trip were ... a deaf couple. They really got to show us around and everything like that. We definitely got a lot of culturally enriching experiences. That was my favorite event that I've been a part of with (the) ASL club.”
ASL club members are also able to improve their skills by learning from their club’s faculty adviser, Kim Sutton, a deaf professor at OU. Sutton is an integral part of the ASL club and often attends the club’s meetings. It’s important for ASL students to interact with members of the deaf community.
“I think it's important for people who are just starting to learn ASL to actually interact with a deaf person, not just someone who's speaking and then signing as they speak,” Vince Dragos, a senior studying finance and treasurer of the ASL club, said. “It really makes you hone in on exactly what they're signing, even if you don't know what they're saying. It's still very educational to just watch and learn between two people who are purely signing and not speaking at all.”
Although Caine, Wendling and Dragos had different introductions to ASL, they have formed a lasting relationship through the club and have fostered a deep passion for the language. They enjoy seeing students from years freshman to senior and from ASL class levels one to six come together and connect through a shared interest.
“What I like about ASL club meetings is getting to meet people that are also passionate about ASL,” Wendling said. “It's good to see because it's a language that definitely needs (to be) advocated for in this world and in our society.”
ASL club is open to all and no prior ASL experience is necessary. Those who are interested in joining the ASL club can contact Wendling at firstname.lastname@example.org.