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Students optimistic about potential sign language course

With a helping hand from the USG and several professors, students who proposed that the University introduce a sign language course hope to see their idea become reality as early as next spring.

"We've been working on it kind of throughout the year," said U-Councilor Melissa Briggs '02, who has spearheaded the effort since it began last semester.


Much of the work Briggs has done to bring the project to fruition involves finding a department to host the would-be class. The most likely candidate, she said, is the linguistics program.

According to Briggs, linguistics program director Marguerite Browning has expressed interest in bringing sign language to the linguistics department, but the likelihood of the program allocating funding for the course is slim.

In addition to teaching American sign language, students also said they hope the course will be able to offer information on other issues pertaining to the hearing-impaired community. "It's essential to tie in sign language to the community that communicates with it. There's a culture there," USG academics chair Jeff Gelfand '01 said. "It's a very distinct community."

Other departments being considered as possible hosts for the course are the anthropology department, the Center for Human Values, the Wilson School and the teacher preparation program.

Both Briggs and Gelfand emphasized that they do not want the sign language course to take the form of a student-initiated seminar but rather to become a regular part of the University's course offerings.

"Everyone in our group thinks that the long-term goal is more important," Gelfand said. "It's something that students on this campus are very interested in and with good reason."


The possibility of attracting more hearing-impaired students to the University is another incentive for instituting the course, Gelfand said. "I think that that would be a major plus," he said.


Expressing a commitment to the course's broader significance, Briggs said she hopes a sign language course will help increase awareness of disabilities at the University.

As co-directors of the Student Volunteers Council's Katzenbach project, Laura Eichhorn '02 — who is an associate photography editor for The Daily Princetonian — and Hannah Foster '03 initiated the development of the course. Through the Katzenbach program, University students learn sign language and then volunteer as tutors at the Katzenbach School for the Deaf, just outside Trenton.

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