The Purdue University North Central American Sign Language Club events generally attract 100 or more participants. Some travel from as far away as Chicago, Mishawaka, Indianapolis and Michigan.
Each month the ASL Club hosts a “silent” coffeehouse at a local coffee shop, once a semester there is a “silent” dinner at a local casual dining restaurant, a “silent” tea on campus and a game night on campus. Each year there is a “Let Your Stars Shine” event for children. The club has hosted silent lunch in the PNC cafeteria as an information way for students to get together to practice their sign language capabilities.
The events are free and open to all. At the coffeehouse and dinner events, participants may buy food and refreshments of their choice.
The PNC ASL Club was established Spring 2006 as a byproduct of the its American Sign Language program that began in 2003.
PNC students whose degree program requires them to take a foreign language may fulfill that requirement by enrolling in American Sign Language classes. Because of that, a variety of majors and interests are represented in the classes and the club.
The club members work to promote a greater awareness of ASL among the PNC students, to foster a greater understanding of the deaf culture and to bring deaf and hearing people from the community together with events that are fun and educational. Thanks to the ASL Club’s activities, many PNC students have been made aware of sign language, deaf culture, as well as new career opportunities.
Currently there are 130 to 150 students enrolled in ASL classes, said Karen Donah, PNC continuing lecturer and PNC coordinator of American Sign Language. A number of students who thought they would take their ASL classes and move along develop a deep interest and begin to explore career options that allow them to use ASL. Some of the PNC ASL professors are deaf, giving their students a meaningful learning experience.
“Our mission is to bridge the gap between the hearing, the deaf and hard of hearing,” explained president Stacey Gibson, of Valparaiso. “Our activities not only give us an opportunity to practice our signing, but most importantly, we have an opportunity to meet new people and gain an appreciation for another culture. Prejudices are lifted with knowledge.”
Gibson aspires to work with the deaf community and become an advocate for the deaf.
Dianne Walters, of Valparaiso, is an Early Childhood Development major, who is herself deaf, and is an expert lip reader. She is now learning ASL as an adult.
She became familiar with ASL when she volunteered to teach preschool students as part of a service leaning requirement. She now vows to teach ASL to her students when she is a teacher
ASL Club events are “silent” meaning that participants use sign language to communicate, even when ordering at restaurants or coffeehouses. When needed, a translator will step in to translate from spoken language to sign language.
The events attract a number of people who are deaf and hard of hearing. This presents an ideal opportunity for all participants to make friends and network. Conversations continue long after the event’s end time.
Brittani Wilke, of Knox, an Elementary Education major, enrolled in ASL to fulfill her foreign language requirement. “I think it would be great to be able to use ASL when I am a teacher, whether it’s in the classroom or to communicate with a parent.”
Her friend, Elizabeth Zeller, of North Judson, is an Elementary Education major as well. She welcomes the opportunity to use ASL in her classroom and wants to teach her students the skill too.
According to Donah and Gibson, a number of ASL students are education majors who want to teach deaf or hard of hearing students, or use it to communicate with their students’ parents or grandparents.
Students in other programs enroll so that they have the ability to communicate with deaf or hard of hearing individuals they may encounter as professionals. Others want to better communicate with family members, friends or co-workers.
“Knowing ASL presents a range of career choices,” said Gibson. “Careers in teaching, social work, business, pharmacy, public service and nursing and health care all need people who know ASL. ASL opens options for everyone.”
The ASL Club earned the 2009 Purdue University Focus Award in recognition of its outstanding contribution to furthering Purdue’s commitment to disability accessibility and diversity. Donah earned the Focus Award in 2007.