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Petition advocating for American Sign Language at Notre Dame circulates social media

Over winter break, a petition advocating for the acceptance of American Sign Language (ASL) at the University of Notre Dame was posted on the Disability Justice ND Instagram account and circulated on social media. By signing the petition, students call on the university to accept ASL as fulfillment for the admissions requirement of taking two years of a world language in high school, provide proficiency exams for students with experiences in ASL and to offer classes in ASL that fulfill college-based foreign language requirements. 

The petition originated as a class project for sophomore Jill Maudlin and her peers in their “Disability at Notre Dame” course. 

“We had to do a final project that culminated in somehow bettering the lives of disabled students on campus or furthering the cause of disability justice, so we chose to take on ASL for that project,” Maudlin said. 

Maudlin, who is also the Director of Disability Advocacy in student government, specified undertaking this project was due to her assignment, not because of her position in student government. 

When she was first assigned the project, Maudlin said part of the reason they chose to address this specific issue was because of a story she had heard about another student in her dorm. 

Junior Caitlin Papalia grew up in a household with two deaf parents, so ASL was her first language and her foreign language in high school. Upon her Notre Dame acceptance, however, she was told that her high school ASL classes did not meet the foreign language admissions requirement. Papalia said she had to take Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 the summer before her first year in order to attend the university. 

Furthermore, students interested in studying ASL while at Notre Dame must do so through another institution. Junior Chloe Lestitian takes ASL courses through Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf over Zoom while attending Notre Dame. 

“Right now, I’m thinking about being a physician, and sign language is a skill and language that would be really important,” Lestitian said. “It’s really useful to know how to communicate with patients in the deaf and hard of hearing community.”

The petition is not students’ first attempt at promoting inclusivity towards ASL at Notre Dame. Papalia wrote an argumentative essay titled “American Sign Language: Why Notre Dame Should Validate My First Language,” and a  resolution presented to the student senate on Oct. 12, which called for the acceptance of ASL as the world language admissions requirement. 

Maudlin helped write and present the resolution to the student government. She said it was an attempt to attain student government support before it was presented to the administration. The Senate decided to refer the resolution back to the Department of Disability Advocacy so the department could continue working on the resolution and present it again once it has more information.

“When student government turned [the resolution] down, it felt almost invalidating because that is what I speak at home,” Papalia said. “I was hurt already by Notre Dame not accepting it, but hearing other students say that we shouldn’t do it because of X, Y and Z made it a lot more difficult to hear.”

The petition, which now has almost 1000 signatures, was an alternative way of demonstrating student support of the cause, Maudlin said. She also expressed her belief that the University will be pushed to introduce ASL because many other elite institutions in the American Association of Universities (AAU), an organization composed of research universities in which Notre Dame is not included, already accept ASL.

95% of AAU schools accept ASL from high schoolers, 63% offer ASL proficiency tests for free and 75% teach ASL, Maudlin said. 

“There are only a couple other elite universities who don’t do all three and Notre Dame is one of them,” Maudlin said. 

Even so, Maudlin is hopeful for change. She said she believes that an optimistic timeline for Notre Dame to start implementing these three measures is by the spring of 2024, but a more realistic timeline would be the following fall. She believes these changes are doable during her time at the university.

“With Notre Dame’s Catholic, service-based mission, we should be able to communicate with the people that need to have their voices heard,” Maudlin said.

You can contact Gabby at gbeecher@nd.edu.

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