Trinity’s ASL Club introduces a collaborative and expressive form of communication to interested students
When Sydney Crowther, a psychology major, was 13 and living in Australia, she had a friend who was hard of hearing and knew Australian Sign Language (Auslan). In an attempt to connect more with her friend, Crowther began learning American Sign Language (ASL), mixing the two languages. Her friend, however, decided to learn ASL with Crowther. When Crowther moved to the United States, she tried to carry on, and the ASL club of Trinity helped her stick with it. Crowther is now president of the ASL club.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 20% of the world’s population lives with hearing loss. The ASL Club of Trinity aims to interest students in ASL and to promote a relationship between Trinity and the deaf community of San Antonio.
“Besides the importance of being diverse and inclusive and understanding different cultures, even within your own culture, it’s really fun,” Crowther said. “It’s really interesting how a sign can visually capture a word.”
The club meets Tuesdays from 6-7 p.m. in Northrup Hall, room 232, and students of all levels can learn and practice ASL. Julie Schwam, a freshman in business and pre-law, studied ASL for three years in high school.
“I enjoyed it very much. I’ve met people who were deaf growing up, I’ve met people who have always been deaf and the culture there is so amazing,” Schwam said. “The people I met were so nice. And they encouraged us so much to learn this language that few people know.
Crowther said people don’t see the deaf community as having a culture. For this reason, the club focuses on raising awareness of this culture on campus. The club will also host coffee talks and movie nights with Deaf communities around San Antonio. The majority of the club at the moment are new to sign language.
“We try to start slow and allow students to choose whether they want to learn more that day or just sit down and practice,” Crowther said. “We try to break into smaller groups so more advanced people can sign together, just to practice.”
Crowther said he hoped there could be a dialogue with Trinity administration about introducing an ASL class. She said that from communications over the past year, she knew the reason there were no classes was because ASL was not considered a foreign language.
Schwam said that if it was a class, even if it didn’t meet a foreign language requirement, she would still take it. She said just because ASL won’t equip her to study abroad doesn’t mean it’s not an important language to learn.
“There is a lot of culture behind it. I just wish we could incorporate it because I took classes and they’re really fun,” Schwam said. “I learned so much. Not just the language, but also so much culture.
Unlike speech, sign language is all about communicating with your whole body. Crowther said this allows for unique and interesting storytelling that traditionally spoken language does not provide.
“It’s fun to be so dynamic and expressive in the way you communicate. We’re not used to using all these facial expressions and being so dynamic with our bodies when communicating,” Crowther said. “I think seeing that in a form of language is really beautiful.”
Schwam said she once went to see a play performed in sign language and the theater was packed with people. She said that even though there was a voiceover, the sign language piqued her interest.
“It’s nice to get out of your comfort zone and learn about someone else’s culture and learning some of their language is part of that,” Schwam said.
Crowther pointed out that there are many reasons why sign language isn’t a more common mode of communication. Because deafness is considered a disability rather than just a functional difference, it tends to be something people look down on. Sometimes people consider learning a new language unnecessary for them. However, learning a new language is mentally stimulating and improves memory, as well as being fun.
“It’s exciting. It’s something new,” Crowther said. “It’s not for everyone, but I think it’s up to everyone to try.”