After a year of pressure from students, the Barnard faculty approved a resolution yesterday to grant elective credit to students who have taken courses in
American Sign Language.
The resolution, which took effect immediately, gives academic credit for courses taken in ASL at accredited institutions, though it does not allow those courses to count toward completion of the general education language requirement, which mandates that all Barnard students complete a fourth semester level language course. Neither Barnard or Columbia currently offers ASL.
"There have been a lot of people coming in already having earned American Sign Language credit from college classes," Maisha Rashid, BC '10 and member of the Committee on Instruction, said, adding that students were upset by the fact that "not only does it not fulfill the language requirement, but it's not worth any credit."
Despite COI's consensus in favor of approving Sign Language courses, discussion in the larger administration on whether Sign Language should be allowed to fulfill the foreign language requirement temporarily stalled progress on the issue, Rashid said.
"I think this was an important step in realizing that this is important academic work and important for students pursuing certain courses of study," Associate Provost Flora Davidson, chair of COI, said. "I think we've paved the way for future discussion by ensuring that ASL will get at least academic credit."
Despite progress, some students feel that the college should do more to recognize students' proficiency in ASL. "I think that it should eventually be counted as a language course," Lauren Ely, BC '10, said. "I think it's a good step that it now counts for credit at Barnard, but it is a language and so it should be counted as a
According to Davidson, there remains significant debate among faculty members as to whether ASL meets the criteria for a foreign language. "Is ASL a language or a dialect of a language?," Davidson asked. "ASL is an American language and the objective of the foreign language requirement is to allow students to experience a different culture."
While acknowledging the importance of sign language in certain areas of study, Barnard has made no provisions to offer sign language courses. "We don't expect to be able to offer courses in ASL at Barnard," said Davidson. "It's a question of resources and at this point it's not something we have the resources to hire faculty to teach. If Columbia were to start offering ASL, that would be something else."
"Sign language allows people to live more broadly in the world," Amarynth Sichel, BC '11, said. "We need to accept that it is a valid language. Barnard is a small college, but Columbia is a huge university and so they are kind of lacking in not offering it."
Davidson replied that "It's up to Columbia faculty to take ownership of this issue and to run with it in the Columbia administration."