ASL Finds its Place at John Jay: Sixty-Percent of Students in Favor of ASL Class

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Time moved ever so slowly at the Department of Motor Vehicles on that sweltering July day. However, there was one person in particular that bearing the heat was the least of his worries. He was looking for something and he couldn’t find it. That is, until a young woman standing at five foot two came his way.

On April 16th, John Jay had its first ever American Sign Language workshop. During community hour, students and faculty flooded into room 1.107, excited to see what was in store. After signing in, students received a worksheet of the ASL alphabet with common words on the backside.

The instructor’s natural affinity for teaching and passion for ASL created a sense of community among the workshop’s attendees.

After learning to sign “Hi! My name is… How are you?” students enthusiastically signed with one another, even from opposite sides of the room.

Shanequa Gowins is a senior at John Jay who is hard of hearing.

“For me to see something like this happening shows support for the hard of hearing and deaf community,” she said. Shanequa compares learning ASL with learning Spanish. “It’s important to learn ASL because you can help people and their families,” she added.

Second-year students Miranda Baboolal and Megan Rajkumar, aka the M&M Team, were the masterminds behind the workshop.

A Computer Science and Information Security major, Miranda felt a profound need for an ASL course at John Jay. She interned at the DMV in the summer, where she met a man who was hard of hearing. “It was basic paperwork, but he wasn’t able to receive any help,” she said.

At John Jay, Miranda sees future first responders and community leaders. “We are a criminal justice school. We need to be able to communicate with people. ASL is as important than any other language.”

Benson Vincent is a rising junior majoring in Public Administration at John Jay and started learning the basics of ASL in high school.

“Learning ASL is important because it bridges the gap between a culture that is all around us. It’s useful for first responders and police officers to understand the deaf culture and conduct themselves in accordance with them,” he said.

ASL is not offered as a language course at John Jay despite a strong desire among its students. Miranda created a poll listing ASL plus our current foreign language options. After posting it on two Facebook groups made up of John Jay students, the results showed that 60% of the participants chose ASL over the other languages.

Miranda shared her aspirations for ASL courses with several faculty members. However, John Jay’s administrators said that we are a school centered around the romance languages. Upon learning this, Miranda felt deflated, but her passion for ASL never faltered.

Megan, a Sociology major, encouraged Miranda whenever they encountered obstacles. “When I heard what the administration said, my heart dropped. I was immediately on board,” she said.

The duo struggled to find a reliable instructor for the workshop. After failing three times, they finally found the right person.

Amanda Boyle teaches ASL at Syosett High School in Long Island, NY. She is hard of hearing herself and heavily emphasized the connection between deaf people, people hard of hearing, and the hearing.

Amanda was the instructor for the workshop, but getting her to teach at John Jay is within Miranda’s vision.

“When you can converse with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, it’s like you’re connecting the two worlds,” Amanda said.

She went on to talk about the necessity of ASL in law enforcement and public service fields. “There is a big demand for deaf lawyers and police officers. Many people don’t even know that deaf people or people hard of hearing should be front cuffed, not back cuffed.”

Miranda is passionate about bringing ASL courses to John Jay and strives to get other students to feel the same way. After all, what is a criminal justice school without justice for the deaf community?