Students pursuing any major can now take courses and fulfill foreign language requirements.

By Kris Dreessen

Learn helpful ASL phrases in this video.

American Sign Language (ASL) courses at Geneseo can now fulfill the College’s foreign language requirements for graduation. Students who completed four years of ASL in high school can also fulfill the requirement.

Geneseo students and leaders say the opportunity demonstrates the College supports ASL and its importance, especially in the Greater Rochester area. The Rochester metropolitan area has one of the highest populations of deaf and hard-of-hearing residents in the United States and is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

“I am absolutely thrilled,” says Stephanie Pearl ’19, who majored in childhood and special education and will pursue a master’s degree for elementary education. “Learning ASL has been such a meaningful experience for me. It also shows Geneseo is making a statement that ASL is a distinct language and culture.”

Pearl was part of the Geneseo student club called Gestures: Organization for Deaf Awareness. Members educate students and College community members about deaf culture and American Sign Language, host events and performances and practice ASL.

SUNY leaders approved the new ASL academic language requirements in 2017, giving each campus a choice to adopt it. Previously, taking ASL for the language requirement was limited to education majors who may encounter deaf and hard-of-hearing children in their profession. In 2018, Pearl completed a GREAT Day project on ASL history as a distinct language and culture. Celia Easton, dean of academic planning and advising, said her presentation was important because she was directly quoted in the proposal that went to College Senate and was approved.

“This curricular change allows Geneseo to support students who chose ASL as their language study during high school, regardless of their major at Geneseo,” Easton said. “By following SUNY’s lead, Geneseo’s College Senate affirms that ASL study meets the learning outcomes for our general education requirement. At the same time, opening the course for more students expands the educational students interested in languages as well as deaf culture.”

Geneseo students outside of the education major often choose ASL as an elective, says Douglas Mackenzie, associate professor of communicative disorders and sciences, who teaches ASL. He anticipates more interest now.

One of those elective students was Katherine Estep ’19, a psychology major. She is considering a career in counseling, psychology or emergency medicine. She fell in love with ASL at Geneseo and believes she will draw on her ASL skills in a healthcare career. While all students could take ASL, allowing them to use it toward graduation requirements in language will open it to many more.

“I feel passionate about ASL. The deaf and hard-of-hearing community is underserved. There is a community need for ASL,” says Estep. “I feel fortunate I was able to learn the language in my time at Geneseo and I’m excited other students can elect to take it as well.”