Spotlight on Academic Majors: American Sign Language and Deaf Studies

Among the many majors that Vincennes University has to offer students, there are many unique offerings. Many people may not know that there is an American Sign Language and Deaf Studies program. 

Vincennes University offers American Sign Language and Deaf Studies as a two year program. This program gets students prepared to go further on and get a baccalaureate degree in American Sign Language and Deaf studies for interpreting, or allows them to have a foundation for a career that will serve deaf individuals. 

This program is located on the campus for the Indiana School for the Deaf in Indianapolis. This program has been located on this campus for 32 years. The faculty for the ASL and Deaf Studies are native signers. They have taken intensive training in teaching ASL and Deaf Studies. 

A large part of the curriculum for this course provides a full immersion into the ASL Deaf Studies. This is through learning-centered instruction in and out of the classroom setting. When hearing students come on to the deaf campus, they have to try and adapt as deaf students would have to adapt to when coming onto a traditional campus such as VU’s Vincennes campus. 

Dr. Cynthia Sanders is a professor and the program chair for this program. Sanders has been teaching American Sign Language for more than 35 years and has been at VU for more than eight years. She said she loves it because it is a beautiful language, the deaf community is involved, and it’s a culture. 

The title of Deaf Studies comes from that they also teach ASL linguistics classes, deaf culture in community classes, and American Sign Language in literature classes. Sanders says that they just don’t teach ASL.  

“So our program is a two year immersion program into ASL and Deaf Culture. This is where they will build their strong foundation in knowledge and when they move on to get their bachelors degree that last two years, then they can choose the field they want to go into,” Sanders said. 

Students who graduate from this course are generally planning to become interpreters. These students are going to be looking toward training programs. Another popular career path for them would be as a teacher of deaf children. Students can also get a job in school psychology, audiology and speech pathology.  

“We have students who are wanting to become attorneys, or they want to go on to nursing, or they want to go into the police academy, or first responder work. So really the career choices are endless,” Sanders said. 

Tami Dominguez is the Administrative Assistant in the ASL and Deaf studies program. Dominguez says she sees so many people come in this program with little knowledge of ASL and the deaf community but having a passion to learn sign language. She also says that a lot of students come in with what they call a clean slate, meaning they have no ASL background. 

The most rewarding part of this program for her is when they leave the program because of how much they have grown in the two years. Not only their ASL skills but their knowledge of deaf people, the community, the language, and the culture. 

“Then to take it on outside in the community, onto a different degree or whatever. But you will always carry that with you though your life, this experience here. So I think that is the most beautiful thing about our program,” Dominguez said. 

“Often when the students come in they come in for personal reasons and professional growth and they have a chance to have a real paradigm shift and reframing in the way that they thought things were like for deaf people and they come out of the program a completely different person, and it’s such a positive experience for the students because they had no idea that it’s just not about learning to sign its about your personal journey,” Sanders added. 

Sanders says that probably the most difficult part of this program is that students want to learn ASL overnight. “It takes about 7 to 15 years depending on the student,” Sanders added. 

The reason it takes so long is because the student is learning a completely new language and it takes time and patience. So in the end the outcome is amazing for the student because they put in the time. 

“We are providing a foundation for the language, the culture, understanding deaf people’s way of life. Understanding their norms, their values,” Sanders said. 

For more information on the American Sign Language and Deaf Studies program click the link below: