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New club raises awareness about deaf community

| Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The American Sign Language (ASL) Club was recently founded at Saint Mary’s and aims to follow the College’s core value of fostering an authentic community, according to club president Isabelle Latsch. The sophomore said she started the club because hard of hearing students have struggled to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I started the club this semester because my hard of hearing friends have been struggling extra this year with masks, sitting far apart and all the other COVID-related stuff,“ Latsch said. “It has been very important to me for a long time to see more disabilities visibility in the world, especially here on campus.”

First-year and vice president of the club Emerson Henry said the club serves as an opportunity for students to not only learn ASL but also to learn about what life is like as a hard of hearing person.

“This club is mainly for people who want to learn American Sign Language and more about the deaf culture or who just have basic interest because it is not really talked about on campus and it is really interesting to learn about,” Henry said. 

Henry said joining the club and gaining a leadership role has been an important aspect of her time at the College. She added that serving as vice president has empowered her and been a rewarding experience, especially as a deaf student.

“This vice president position was everything because growing up as a deaf person, everybody kind of just doubts you for a minute, like, ‘oh can you do this?‘ Well, yeah I can. It just has to come with a little bit more work and effort and time, but it really is worth it in the end,” Henry said. 

Upon learning about the club, Henry immediately wanted to join. She said she ultimately took on the role of vice president because she wanted to dedicate herself to educating others about deafness.

One of the primary goals of the club is to spread awareness of individuals who are hard of hearing and to teach others how to communicate with them. Henry said the club has been successful thus far in educating others and attempting to teach students how to overcome the communication barrier.

“This club has brought more awareness towards deaf culture because not a lot of people are aware,“ Henry said. “If somebody needs help it’s good to just know the basics — or if they feel it is important to know how to have a conversation with a deaf person by learning some basic signs and rules of American Sign Language.” 

Henry hopes the club will grow and eventually offer more advanced ASL classes. 

“I think that it’s great that we have the level one class of American Sign Language here on campus, but if this club interests enough people, the college is going to need to bring in more levels which would educate more individuals and end up bringing more awareness to the community which was the mission of the club,” Henry said.

This semester, the club has met every other week on Wednesdays. Henry said each meeting focuses on a specific topic such as the alphabet or numbers. Latsch said the club’s plans for next year include bringing in guest speakers and partnering with Access-ABLE for a special event.

“The club has a few more deaf guest speakers lined up for next year, an opportunity for everyone to get name signs and I am also hoping to team up with the Access-ABLE at ND for an event,” Latsch said.  

The club has just one more meeting left for this semester. Henry said the leadership team is excited for the future of the club. 

“For next semester, we are hoping to expand the club and have more people come,“ Henry said. “Hopefully we can do more events with less restriction to be able to get more of the tri-campus community involved with the club.”   

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