ASL and English at Gallaudet University
By Guest Blogger Carl Schroeder
In her recent blog, Andrea Shettle asks: How can we reunify the wider Gallaudet community, both on campus and off, in a way that invites and embraces diversity of opinion–including different perspectives and attitudes toward the protests?
I wish to answer by stating an assumption: the general form of the campus diversity and inclusiveness underlies all academic discourse. It is a mistake, I believe, to suggest that because the academic discourses of Deaf (uppercase) students and deaf (lowercase) students differ, there is no common “it” beneath the variations.
While a graduate student at American University, I had a wonderful opportunity to work with the Dean of School of Education, Dr. Lee Knefelkamp. She specialized in higher learning, college teaching, student development, and legal issues in higher education. She was also my thesis advisor. Since I was also a faculty member of the English Department at Gallaudet University, I often discussed my professional experience with Lee. I also shared my departmental evaluation with her because it was always tough and intimating. She told me that colleges and universities are the community of alienation, accommodation, and affirmation. Critics are important if they address the subject matter from different perspectives. I leaerned that academic disagreements are all too common and important.
At Gallaudet University, have we learned that the important rules for diversity and inclusiveness are total acceptance and mutual respect? Wrong! We could discuss any issue exemplary in all these areas, but as important as they are, we might still fail to accept or respect. Essential “rules” for successfully participating in the academic discourse at Gallaudet University operate at a deeper level. It is not about anger, hostility and disagreement; it is about some strategies successful Deaf people use to effectively join the academic conversation in American Sign Language, the language and culture they know the best.
To master ASL at Gallaudet University is to know how to translate from it into college writing requiring the English language. Translating between ASL and English effectively enables the students to engage the value, vocabulary, forms, and manners of these languages as well as to understand their position, what they bring to the conversation, to join in clear communication, and to good writing. Good writing means unique thinking.
At Gallaudet University, Deaf students are unique thinkers. They need professors who love, and participate in, ASL-English discourse—embody the values they seek to teach in both languages. The students need to know that their professors are able to continually remind themselves just how difficult such ASL and English are, how difficult learning to translate between these languages is. To recognize translating between ASL and English as difficult and problematic is the beginning of wisdom.
Now I wish to conclude this essay by saying that few indeed are those professors who will encourage the students to translate between ASL and English when they do not trust themselves to understand. To develop the self confidence of Deaf students is part of an overall responsibility Gallaudet University has yet to show. In the love of learning how to translate between ASL and English, both professors and students can make a grand connection between these languages and become unique meaning makers.
[The author, Carl Schroeder, has a blog of his own entitled “Kalalau’s Corner.”]
[Want to submit your own essay for publication at Reunify Gally? It should be related in some way to reunifying or healing the Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests. If interested, review my Guidelines for Guest Bloggers and submit your essay to ashettle (at) patriot.net]