American Sign Language (ASL) is a language communicated through hand signs, primarily used by deaf people in the United States. Around one out of every twenty people in the United States is clinically deaf, yet the majority of the country does not understand sign language. In recent weeks, Troy Keller ’22 initiated a new club at Andover dedicated to ASL, which plans to meet in the Underwood Room every Sunday.
“Basically [the club is] a space where kids could learn ASL at a very rudimentary level, learning basic fingerspelling and certain introductory signs, and we’re going to be progressing through the levels. You can say it’s almost like a Sunday class, but there’s no homework or grades or tests or anything. It’s completely on a participation basis—you can show up when you want, [or] not show up when you don’t want to,” said Keller.
This past Sunday, Keller instructed an introductory meeting for the ASL club, teaching club members fundamental sign language phrases. Club member Alexandra Zhang ’22 enjoyed the club’s first meeting and looks forward to learning more about the ASL community.
“There were ten people there, and we did introductions, [talked about] why we wanted to join ASL club, [and learned some] fingerspelling, the alphabet, and… some basic vocab… It was really fun. I think I’ve memorized the alphabet now, but it was fun to just try and it was a really small group so it was [a] low stakes [environment]… I know a lot of people had relatives or knew somebody that was hard of hearing or deaf, and they wanted to learn more about the culture. I’m excited to do that as well,” said Zhang.
In addition to teaching ASL, Keller intends to provide students with information regarding deaf culture. Although sign language is more straightforward to teach than culture, Keller looks for advice from his sister, who attended Gallaudet University, an ASL-speaking school in Washington D.C.
“We do have a pretty clear idea of what we want to teach language-wise, but in [terms of] how we want students to engage with deaf culture and learn about deaf culture is something I’m really going to be working with, [Larry Stephen], the [new] deaf instructor, on. Also, getting the advice of my mom and my sister who is a C.O.D.A., child of a deaf adult—that’s just a term used in deaf culture… I’m also seeking her guidance and advice on how to sort of transfer that information to individuals who really have no experience with deaf culture prior to the ASL club,” said Keller.
The club’s faculty advisor Laura Warner reflected on the changes she hopes the ASL club will encourage in Andover’s relationship with the deaf community. Although ASL will likely not become an official language option at Andover, Warner anticipates the club’s influence on independent student research.
“I think it’s hard because we do offer so many languages, so it’s probably unlikely for it to be a foreign language. But there are a lot of opportunities for self-study for ASL through Gallaudet and other places online, so I hope that this will not be a one-year thing,” Warner said.
Keller hopes to give the club a solid foundation before he graduates this spring. In doing so, he welcomes any student to join the ASL club throughout the year, regardless of one’s experience or knowledge about the deaf community.
“Even if you on a whim want to come to a class in the middle of the year, we’d love to welcome you… we’re just trying to create a culture that’s just welcoming to all, and even if we’re learning about something so niche like learning how to sign about different types of furniture… you can still come along, you can still learn because it’s still knowledge that you can acquire and it’s still an experience. It’s a good group of people too, so even if it’s in the middle of the year, consider stopping by on a Sunday,” Keller said.
The ASL club is sponsored in part by a grant from the Abbot Academy Fund.