Quinn Donover (’16) started studying American Sign Language (ASL) two and a half years ago, when she took the ASL ExCo at Oberlin during her first year. The following summer, she took an ASL class at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, near her house in Philadelphia. The Spring of her third year she studied at Gallaudet University in DC, a deaf university. She is now co-teaching the ASL ExCo for her fourth time. (The sign in the picture means ‘I love you’).
I am not sure why, but I have always been fascinated by ASL. In kindergarten, a woman came in and taught us a few signs, and I remember wanting to know more, but she was only there for the day. I never thought I would have the chance to really learn. Lucky for me, I was accepted to the ASL ExCo here at Oberlin, probably due to my overenthusiasm and persistent emails. I loved practicing the signs, learning about deafness and Deaf culture, and communicating without my voice. Over the last two years, my love for ASL has only grown.
Last year, while everyone else was researching study abroad options, I was feeling uninterested in leaving Oberlin and going to a different place to study. That was, until I realized that Gallaudet University has a visiting student program. Gallaudet University, which is in D.C., is the only Deaf Liberal Arts University in the world, and is extremely well known in Deaf communities. In the spring, I attended Gallaudet as a visiting student; I lived in a dorm, ate in the cafeteria, and took four regular classes. It was amazing and completely overwhelming.
I spent the first month at Gallaudet feeling pretty lost. I would watch people signing and zone out, unable to glean any meaning from their dancing hands. Over time, my brain adjusted to receiving input with my eyes and not with my ears. There is a funny saying that Deaf people live on Eyeth, as opposed to Earth, and on Eyeth, all of the input you get is visual. At Gallaudet, all of the classes are taught in ASL. The chairs in each classroom are organized in a circle or semicircle, because everyone needs to be able to see each other. Every dorm room has a doorlight, which is like a doorbell, but pushing it lights up a lightbulb above the door inside the room. There are more floor-to-ceiling windows in the buildings and dorms, because you can communicate through glass without a second thought. Have you ever thought about that before?
These differences are rather superficial, but hopefully are representative of just how different being on a Deaf campus is. There is a different classroom layout, but there are also extreme cultural differences between Gallaudet and Oberlin, or, more broadly, Deaf schools and hearing Schools. Learning ASL has opened my eyes to a world that goes under the hearing radar (often with negative consequences). I have become more aware of how marginalized groups are treated after seeing how Deaf people have to constantly accommodate for the rest of the world.
lml_ (which means ‘I love you’.)
Please contact me if you want to know more about ASL at Oberlin! Qdonover@oberlin.edu