ASL Club members outside Gallaudet University.

Photo courtesy of: Sherri Wilson


The group rests underneath a cherry tree near the Martin Luther King Memorial.

Photo courtesy of: Sherri Wilson

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OHIO ASL Club members experience the rich history of Gallaudet University

During their recent trip to Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., 11 American Sign Language Club members from Ohio University-Chillicothe and Ohio-University Lancaster used American Sign Language (ASL) to explore deaf culture at the historic university.

“Galluadet was the first higher education institution in the United States with programs and services specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hearing impaired students,” said Ashlee Rauckhorst, coordinator of student activities at the Chillicothe campus. “The students who attended this trip were fully immersed in deaf culture, especially as communication among participants was mostly through American Sign Language.”

Trip participants, most of whom had studied sign language for months or even years before the trip, found that visiting the university was a great way to practice signing with others outside of the classroom.

“Learning to sign is something I have always wanted to do,” said Marlene Fout, a junior at the Chillicothe campus and a co-organizer of the trip, who began learning sign language in 2010. “The trip was a wonderful learning experience! In the past, I struggled a lot with my signing skills, but loved the language too much to quit. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to be immersed in the deaf culture during our visit. Now, I am much more comfortable signing.”

Recent Chillicothe campus graduate and ASL Club president Sherri Wilson was inspired to learn and practice sign language from her ASL instructors at the Chillicothe campus.

“I understand the struggle of communication because of my memory loss as a young woman,” said Wilson. “I had to relearn the English language and it is still a challenge. My college education was scary in the beginning because I had very few words, but I understood sign language. I loved it from day one.”

Reflecting on her visit to Gallaudet, Wilson was impressed with how the university structure seemed to embody the spirit of deaf culture.

“The university is rich in detail and distinct in its presentation,” said Wilson. “The character is strong and full of strength. The beauty of the people is matched by the history of the university; what a wonderful combination!”

During their stay, trip attendees viewed Deaf Jam, a documentary portraying how American Sign Language complements spoken poetry.

“Deaf Jam really moved me,” said Lancaster campus student Angela Goldman. “I love the visual aspect that American Sign Language brings to poetry; it displays the beauty of true poetry in motion. I’m excited that American Sign Language is starting to enter the spoken word movement. My hope is that there can be a bridge built between the worlds of the hearing and the deaf and that people can come to appreciate the wonderful culture that exists within the deaf community.”

“I think that American Sign Language is moving into the spoken word movement at a slow pace and I wish it would move faster,” said Heather Underwood, a junior at the Lancaster campus majoring in interpretation. “I think it could have a great effect on people’s everyday lives.”

While she found Deaf Jam to be an amazing documentary, Wilson believes the film only scratches the surface of deaf culture.

“I believe that sign language is more than a movement; it is a huge part of the world we have overlooked,” said Wilson. “The deaf culture has given us the football huddle and started sign language in major league baseball. It’s important to remember that over 80 percent of human communication is nonverbal communication.”

In addition to interacting with students at Gallaudet University on their trip, Ohio students, many of whom had never visited Washington, D.C., had the chance to visit national landmarks including the Holocaust Museum and the Jefferson, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and war memorials.

“It was my first time visiting Washington, D.C. and I fell in love with it,” said Fout. “The cultural diversity of the city is huge and the history that is present simply won my heart. I’m not a history buff, but when you visit Washington, D.C., history becomes real. It’s no longer just dates and facts in a textbook.”

For all students involved, the ASL Club trip provided the opportunity to explore a new city, a new university and a new culture, while having fun along the way.

“One of my favorite things about the trip was sharing the experience with all the wonderful people I was surrounded by,” said Wilson. “There was so much positive energy, happiness and laughter; it was truly a life-changing experience.”