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‘The Institution is Failing its Disabled Students’: Loyola Students Express Their ‘Disappointment’ over Departmental ASL Policies

Zack Miller | The PhoenixAfter multiple years of communicating with the Global Studies program, an appeal was accepted that allows American Sign Language (ASL) to count towards its foreign language requirement. Though, some believe Loyola should do more to expand the program entirely.

Certain Loyola programs now allow students to take American Sign Language (ASL) classes to satisfy foreign language requirements but they must take them at other institutions because the university doesn’t offer higher level ASL courses.

After a push from Deaf and Hard of Hearing students and faculty along with supporters of the community, the Global Studies program at Loyola is now allowing students to take ASL classes to satisfy its four semester foreign language requirement. 

Loyola’s College of Arts and Sciences has allowed students to take ASL courses to satisfy its requirement of two semesters of a foreign language since its introduction, but other programs that have a foreign language requirement still do not accept ASL. 

Students who choose to take ASL for the Global Studies program will have to take 103 and 104 levels at another university and submit a request to take the course at a different university, as Loyola only offers the course up to a 102 level.

“I’ve had some professors who have been incredible advocates for me and for Deaf culture and ASL,” said Loyola senior Natalie Burdsall, a Child of a Deaf Adult (CODA) who worked to get ASL recognized as a language at Loyola. “But the institution as a whole is failing its disabled population and its disabled students.”

In the spring of 2020, the Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) accepted legislation and a syllabus for ASL to be taught up to the 101 and 102 levels. After spring break of 2022, the Global Studies program accepted it as a foreign language in order to satisfy its language requirements.

As of publication, the International Business program still doesn’t deem ASL as satisfactory towards its foreign language requirements. 

The Phoenix received no comment from the International Business program director on the possibility of ASL being satisfactory for its foreign language requirement. 

Burdsall, a Loyola senior double majoring in global studies and communication studies, said when they initially enrolled in Loyola, they asked about using ASL as a foreign language. 

“[Initially] their response was that ASL does not count as a foreign language, and that I would have to take language classes if I wanted to be part of the Global Studies program,” Burdsall said. “In my sophomore year I decided to schedule a meeting with Dr. Pintchman because I wanted to discuss the issue further as I felt it was rather rash and uneducated just based off our preliminary conversations, and she told me to send in an appeal.”

Following the meeting with Dr. Tracy Pintchman, the Global Studies program director at Loyola, Burdsall said she sent an appeal to the Global Studies department that same school year in 2020.   

After following up in 2020 and 2021, Burdsall didn’t receive communication from the program again until 2022 where the appeal was accepted in the department. 

Pintchman declined to speak with The Phoenix about the process of allowing ASL to count toward foreign language requirements.

After receiving communication from Pintchman in 2022 about allowing ASL to be taken as a foreign language for the program, Burdsall and other CODAs at Loyola explained why they believed ASL should count towards this requirement to the Global Studies department, and how ASL functions as a language.

Karolina Barcarcel, a Loyola senior majoring in biology on a pre-dental track, expressed her idea of sign language being used for foreign language requirements as a CODA.

“Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities use [ASL] to communicate with each other through the use of their hands, facial expressions, body language, and more,” Barcarcel said. “I believe that other hearing populations should learn and use ASL not only to communicate with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, but also to familiarize themselves with Deaf culture and appreciate it.”

According to the Modern Language Association of America,  ASL is the third most-studied language in higher educational institutions in the United States. While ASL is growing in popularity, Loyola has yet to expand its ASL program since 2020 when it was introduced as a course.

Tessa Kraft, a CODA junior studying environmental studies, said she believes ASL is a distinct language from English, and should be regarded as such. 

“Many people believe that ASL is simply ‘signed English,’ but this is not true,” Kraft said. “There are distinct linguistic and grammatical differences from spoken English. ASL was recognized as a language in 1964, and since that time, linguists have only found more evidence that it meets the criteria of a world language.”

The ASL classes at Loyola are taught by Deaf professor Melinda Tran within the Modern Languages department, who told The Phoenix that the tools used in determining a language to be foreign are flawed.

“Unfortunately, today’s society still perceives any language that is not English as a foreign language or a type of communication tool for their needs,” Tran said. “I do genuinely believe Loyola University would benefit if both programs reevaluate their language requirements and determine how each would benefit students in their studies.”

Leslie Owen | The Phoenix

Sawsan Abbadi, a Loyola professor teaching Arabic in the Modern Languages department, had Burdsall as a student and expressed her support for Burdsall and their efforts to get ASL accepted as credit in departments aside from Global Studies.

Abbadi also told The Phoenix she was in support of expanding the ASL program at Loyola. 

“If that decision has to be made by Modern Languages, we will have lots of support for a 103 or a 104 level,” Abbadi said. 

Currently, there are no immediate plans to expand the ASL curriculum for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, according to Abbadi and Tran. In order for Loyola to extend the course past a 102 level, student interest and more popularity in the course must be advocated for. 

In addition to introducing more ASL courses, Abbadi suggested other ways the university could broaden its reach to the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community at Loyola.

“If more events on campus have interpretation, possibly, we will also send a message to the community that we do respect and allow a platform for those who need ASL and we can further promote it,” Abbadi said.

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