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New ASL club at Howard aspires to increase the number of signers in the community

Howard ASL is a new club dedicated to informing the community about the importance of knowing American Sign Language and increasing the number of people who can use it.

The Howard American Sign Language club’s staff left to right: Treasurer Ayana Prewit, Secretary Natalia Ruffin, President Brian Waite, Vice President Brielle Bellerand, and Historian Olivia Colquhoun. (Photo Courtesy of Briana Waite)

This semester a new organization is on the rise: The American Sign Language (ASL) club which aims to create a community of signers at Howard University while breaking communication barriers.

The Executive Board for the 2023-2024 school year will include founder and President Brianna Waite, Vice President Brielle Bellerand, Secretary Natalia Ruffin, Treasurer Ayana Prewit and Historian Olivia Coloquhoun. The vision for the club started a couple of years ago after Waite attended a sign language event hosted by Revolt Inc. during her freshman year. 

Following the event, Waite grew a great interest in the language and fell in love with the community. With most of the e-board members meeting through Revolt Inc., a femme-identifying service organization on campus, Waite compiled a group of members she could trust and embarked on the idea of forming a club despite having little background in ASL.

“I went to a private school for nursery and Pre-K and they taught us basic sign language,”  Waite, a senior elementary education major from New York, said. “That was my first taste of the language and I always had an interest for it but didn’t act on it. I then attended a Revolt event my president hosted on sign language, and I really was interested in learning the language.”  

“I just wanted to start a community of people who are interested in learning sign language or [to] further their learning in sign language,” Waite added.

Aspiring members don’t need to have experience with sign language and all majors are welcome to join. Members can expect weekly meetings to learn ASL. 

“Our main goal is to communicate greeting phrases and hold small talk by the end of the spring. I feel that we can create a community of signers at Mecca,” Bellerand, a senior honors elementary education major from New York, said.  

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Within the ASL community, there is a subgroup for deaf African Americans called Black American Sign Language (BASL).According to MCSM Rampage, an online Manhattan newspaper for Science and Mathematics, due to segregation in the U.S. school system and hospitals, Black Americans created BASL due to the impacts of isolation. 

Tramell Hensen, an administrative secretary at Gallaudet University, the first institution of higher learning for the deaf according to the university’s website, recalled how shocked she was when she first came to the campus and found out how many parents couldn’t communicate with their children.

“When I first started here, a lot of parents were calling in and didn’t know any sign language.  I felt so bad for the students because this is your child and you should be able to communicate with them. This is just one problem but what about the others your kid may have,” Hensen said.

The importance of learning American Sign Language continues to grow as the deaf population in the U.S. is also increasing. More than 90% of children who are born deaf have parents who can hear, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Aspiring members of Howard ASL, without or without prior knowledge of ASL, can find more information on the club’s Instagram page @Howardu_asl.

Copy edited by Diamond Hamm

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