BGSU will offer sections of ASL 2010 and ASL 2020 in both the fall and spring semesters of the 2021-2022 school year. The university is also exploring ways that will provide BGSU students access to ASL courses in the future.
On Jan. 25, the Undergraduate Student Government convened and passed a resolution in an attempt to reverse the decision to cut the American Sign Language program at BGSU. At the end of last semester, a decision was made to remove the minor and all ASL courses at BGSU starting in the fall semester of 2021.
“I was approached by a professor towards the end of last semester that they had received an email that the university had decided to no longer offer courses,” Hallie Cunningham, chief of staff of Undergraduate Student Government said in a video call.
Cunningham also said the email was short. All that was included was that starting in fall of 2021 they would no longer offer courses. They would offer three or four courses in spring of 2021 and over the summer so students could finish out the program.
She also talked about how usually when decisions like this are made, it goes through a process.
“Typically when decisions like this are made they have to go through a governance process at BG. So, it has to go through us (USG), it has to go through faculty senate, undergraduate council, SEC, there's a lot of different things,” Cunningham said. She said that at the time,
USG had not received any information regarding the cutting of the program.
The resolution mentions that the proposal to suspend the minor was voted down by the Faculty Senate Executive Committee on Oct. 27. However, the decision was still made to suspend admissions into the minor. The resolution also provides reasons why the decision should be reversed.
In a media release on the BGSU website, it states why the decision was made to cut the program. The decision was made due to budget restrictions and teaching responsibilities for the faculty and staff as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The release also mentioned that the decision was not made lightly. However, the courses were not required for any degree in the College of Education and Human Development. The minor was only recently approved and not many students had formally declared ASL as their minor. There was also a difficulty finding faculty to teach upper-level courses.
Support to save the program has been huge, Mariah Grow, a senior majoring in biology and criminal justice who has been working to keep the ASL program, said.
“The reactions that Hannah and I, along with the Department/School of Counseling and Special Education (in the College of Education and Human Development) have received have been overwhelming in the most positive way. There has been very little about supporting the cancellation of the ASL program, I would like to say that in fact, 95% of messages we have received were in support of our fight of preventing the cancellations. The other 5% has been to assist us with a few bumps we had in the road,” Grow wrote in an email.
Cunningham feels that the issue was not properly addressed, specifically the students were not addressed.
“So myself, our USG president and our academic affairs chair had a meeting with Chris Frey who sits on faculty senate and we discussed with him and told him our action plan and things like that,” Cunningham said.
Students started a petition to keep the program, which has over 15,000 signatures from students, community members and faculty.
There was also a virtual protest, facilitated by the Dean of the College of Education and Human Development Dawn Shinew, faculty in the department and an interpreter, with about 65 people arranged by BGSU students in response to the program being cut.
“The protest turned more into an open form where we had an informational session, along with individuals that told their own stories as both students and communities members. A petition followed shortly after the scheduling of the protest from Jillian Scott who has since assisted us in outreach. This is where I can officially say thank you to the Undergraduate Student Government, they assisted our protest with a resolution that was drafted and brought up through their committee,” Grow wrote.
In President Rogers’ end-of-week update email on Jan. 29, there was a bullet point about the ASL program in response to the work of BGSU students to save the program.
Included in the message was that Provost Whitehead would be reaching out to students who would be affected by the cutting of the program to offer clarification and support. It also mentioned that they were going to be looking into partnerships and possibilities that would allow students the opportunity to have access to ASL courses.
For Cunningham, one thing BGSU promotes is “being a public university for the public good and our division of diversity and belonging and ASL is a part of that, American Sign Language is a part of that, deaf culture is a part of that. And to just completely diminish that inclusivity I think really goes against what we stand for. And also it's not like deaf people are going away, they are always going to be here,” she said.
She also feels she has learned greatly from her ASL classes and her professors genuinely care about her. She said she has learned just as much from her online Zoom classes as she would have in person and that it would be unfair to take that opportunity away from students.
“It’s a form of communication and so that’s just really sad to see that go I think,” she said. “Not everyone can speak and not everyone can hear. So, it's really up to us to do our duty to try to include people as much as we can and ASL is a really great way to do that.”
Grow echoed this importance.
“This program is beneficial to everyone and not just a select few and that is why it is so important. Everywhere you go there is a chance you will run into someone,” she wrote.
She also knows the fight is far from over.
“The fight continues and the faculty vote is on 2/2, but that decision will not end our fight. What I can say for now is that I am so thankful for all the support and the amazing people that have assisted Hannah and I, the ones that have kept in continuous contact and continued to check in on us and help guide us through this journey thus far,” she wrote.
The issue was discussed during the Faculty Senate meeting yesterday. The petition is still available to be signed and shared for anyone wanting to support the keeping of the ASL program.