Starting in fall 2008, MSU will offer a residence hall environment where American Sign Language is the primary mode of communication. The new housing option will be located in Snyder-Phillips Hall, which will become a hub for many academic and cultural events focused on deafness.
MSU’s ASL Living/Learning option will be the only such environment among Michigan’s public universities and one of the most unique in the nation, said Harold Johnson, professor of special education and a widely known deaf education expert.
Although students from all class levels and majors may apply, students pursuing related MSU degrees in communicative sciences and disorders, deaf education and social work will be encouraged to consider the chance to gain awareness of each other’s disciplines and better understand the life experiences of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“We are hoping to create an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the language. We also believe that this option is going to aid in the recruitment of a diverse student body,” said Jill Elfenbein, associate professor of communicative sciences and disorders. “Imagine that you are a student at MSU and ASL is your first language. When you go home to your dorm at night, wouldn’t it be nice to be in an environment in which you can easily communicate with the other residents?”
Elfenbein said a survey was taken of students in ASL classes last fall and found that students from more than 60 majors were learning ASL. “I am confident that there is interest among students on campus,” she said.
Snyder-Phillips was chosen to house the new option because it was newly renovated and re-focused as an on-campus community that values language arts and culture, housing the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities.
In the open cafeteria, for example, students have a clear view of people on floors above them which will be conducive to signing. Marta Belsky, American Sign Language coordinator, said the hall is also conveniently located close to the Social Work program in Baker Hall, the Deaf Education program in Erickson Hall and the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities located in Bessey Hall where deaf or hard-of-hearing students would go for support services.
A limited number of reserved rooms, which will be available in both men’s and women’s sections, will be equipped with visual alerting systems and other accommodations upon request. A coordinator will plan activities such as guest speakers, social gatherings and captioned movies; Snyder-Phillips also could eventually serve as a convenient location for some ASL courses.
“The best way to learn any language is through continued use in a fun and relaxed environment,” said Kyle Callahan, an MSU junior who plans to apply for the program as he pursues a major in deaf education. “This will give both hearing and deaf students alike a place where they can live or go to where ASL isn’t considered strange, but rather celebrated and encouraged.”