The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Students petition to introduce American Sign Language major at UI

UI ASL club member Kate Hinz started a petition to get UI to start an ASL major to further educate students and improve communication with the Deaf community.
Emily Nyberg
Vice President Ellie McGovern leads midterm review during University of Iowa ASL Club at Phillips Hall in Iowa City on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023.

A petition by the University of Iowa’s American Sign Language Club to ask the university to start an ASL major has garnered over 1,400 signatures over two months.

ASL Club member Kate Hinz, who started the petition, said she got the idea of the petition in a conversation with ASL Department Director Rebecca Clark, who mentioned that in 2020, there was a push for an ASL major that gained a lot of traction. The UI currently only offers an ASL minor.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, progress was lost due to funding issues.

“I wanted to help the ASL department gain some support for the push toward the establishment of a B.A. in ASL,” Hinz said. “I worked on the petition for a few weeks and finally got it up around the first week of April.”

Currently, no school in the state of Iowa offers a four-year ASL major, Hinz said. The only ASL-specific program available is a two-year associate’s degree from Scott County Community College in Riverdale, Iowa.

“That is shocking, to say the least,” Hinz said. “While it is a good program, to really learn sign language you need more exposure than what a two-year program can offer.”

Hinz also said there is a huge need for more people who can sign in the state, which goes beyond the need for interpreters.

“The more people who can learn sign language, the stronger the community we will have as a whole,” Hinz said.

Hinz said the club’s goal is to create a four-year bachelor’s degree in ASL, ideally focusing on a certain study. For example, Hinz hopes one could obtain a major in ASL with a focus on interpreting, Deaf history, Deaf studies, or Deaf education.

At a minimum, the club just wants to establish a major, Hinz said.

RELATED: UI cultural Deaf community emphasizes importance of interpreters

Paige Simpkinson, an ASL student tutor at the UI, said establishing the major would be one of the first steps to ensure there are better, more skilled signers who can continue to become interpreters and work with the Deaf community.

“Deaf people deserve access to communication, information, and the same services that hearing people have,” Simpkinson said. “Interpreters are an instrumental part of providing access to those things.”

She said if the UI were to implement the major, they would not only attract a more robust Deaf community to Iowa City and surrounding areas, but would also benefit the Deaf community that already exists here that does not receive adequate accommodations.

For a major to be added to UI, the Iowa Board of Regents must approve it, though no ASL major is currently mentioned on any upcoming agenda.

Robert Vizzini, a lecturer within the ASL department who is Deaf, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that he would like to see the program add a major to create a smaller bridge between hearing individuals and those who are Deaf.

”I want to see the program add a major not only because students want this but also being part of the Deaf community and advocating for equality, access, and accommodations,” Vizzini wrote. “We need more interpreters. I need more that are qualified.”

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About the Contributor
Emily Nyberg
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.