Merrimack College SGA Successfully Lobbies to Add American Sign Language to Curriculum

The Student Government Association’s Academic Affairs Committee (SGA) worked with faculty and the Office of the Provost to include American Sign Language (ASL) as part of the College’s foreign language requirement starting in spring 2024.
ASL graphic

Members of SGA Academic Affairs Committee have no personal connection to American Sign Language. But as a committee, what they do possess is a sense of duty to advocate for their fellow students.

Which is why they spent 2023 successfully lobbying Merrimack faculty and the Office of the Provost to include ASL in the College’s foreign language requirement beginning in spring 2024.

“SGA is a group that listens to the student body’s voice and then takes action,” said Nick Stawczyk ’26, an Austin Scholar and chair of the Academic Affairs Committee. “I came into this without any idea of how interested students are in ASL.”

Merrimack students are so interested in taking ASL courses that in a recent Main Street Polling Survey, more than 80 percent of Merrimack students said they were in favor of fulfilling their foreign language requirement with an ASL course.

The process began in spring 2023 when among the initiatives on the committee’s to-do list was adding ASL to the College’s course curriculum as a foreign language. The Academic Affairs Committee, composed of students Stawczyk, Brady Waterman ’24, Adam Rocznia ’23 and Renee DeLeon ’25, spent the semester researching how to add a new foreign language to the curriculum, and more importantly, how to get ASL designated as a foreign language. They also worked closely with Diane Shaw, assistant professor of practice in the Academic Success Center and the committee’s advisor.

One critical piece of information the group found to support its effort was a 1994 statute in Massachusetts General Law that says “ASL is recognized as a full and legitimate language, as the language of a unique culture in the United States, and as the equivalent of a spoken language for the purposes of foreign language study and course credit in colleges.” The SGA committee’s research also found that several colleges and universities in the region offer ASL as a foreign language.

Merrimack currently offers Spanish, French and Italian as foreign languages.

At the start of the fall 2023 semester, the SGA felt it had more than enough to move forward with a proposal that went before the Merrimack Faculty Senate and the Office of the Provost.

“I am proud of the SGA students for their determination in bringing forward a professional, persuasive and well-researched proposal for an ASL offering at Merrimack,” said Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs John “Sean” Condon.

Starting this semester, Merrimack students can transfer credit from a college-level ASL course toward their foreign language requirement, and the College will introduce an in-person course on campus in fall 2024 through the Winston School of Education and Social Policy.

SGA’s proposal highlighted the cultural and historical engagement ASL courses can offer students, as well as the added skill set for their future careers.

“It is a great skill for nursing students, education students and social work students to have,” said Stawczyk. “Merrimack is also working toward being more inclusive and adopting ASL as a foreign language is an important part of growing DEI efforts on campus.”

“The Committee has had three years of hard work discussing, researching and proposing ASL classes at Merrimack. I am immensely proud of the work SGA has done. and am eager to see what new doors may be opened through this initiative,” said Max Beland ’24, SGA President.

Mark Metevier, director of student involvement who oversees the SGA, said “This initiative is one of the greatest examples I have seen of students advocating for what they believe their academic community needs, and also how successful students can be when they are determined and work together.” Metevier continued, “This accomplishment was the result of months of hard work and dedication and I am so proud of the committee and SGA as a whole.”

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