By Erin Brody, Arts and Culture Editor
Saint Vincent College offers a variety of clubs for a variety of student interests – ranging from karate to business – and starting this semester, students will have a chance to join a new club: the American Sign Language (referred to as ASL) Club.
The first person to express interest in such a club was Katelyn Stokan, freshman biology major, who, with her fluency in signing, was named the club’s president.
“I was born with sensorineural hearing loss, and I wear hearing aids to help me hear better,” Stokan said. “I was taught sign language as a baby and went to Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.”
Stokan eventually transferred to a public school and had an interpreter and FM system to help with hearing, but she “felt different signing in front of a bunch of hearing students.”
“Fast forward to now, I’m bummed that I didn’t try to keep up with signing,” Stokan said. “I started this club to practice my signing and teach others basic sign language.”
In the 2021 fall semester, Stokan met fellow biochemistry major Vincent Kaschauer, pre-veterinary student Julianna Lott, and psychology major Ariel Garrett. Once the three learned about Stokan’s hearing loss, they wanted to either re-learn or begin learning ASL.
“[Stokan] began teaching us various signs – even before she had the idea to start the club – so this was an amazing transition into starting a club,” Ariel Garret, ASL Club Treasurer, said.
After dusting off his signing skills with a family member and Stokan, Vincent Kaschauer, the club’s vice president, realized that others also shared the desire to learn ASL.
“Personally, my main reason for helping and trying to get this club started was that I felt as though a place like SVC should have resources for any and every learner,” Kaschauer said. “I want to create a place where people who want to learn ASL can come and learn judgment-free.”
Along with that, Kaschauer “wanted Katelyn to know that she does not always have to accommodate the majority.”
Sharing similar sentiments, Garrett and ASL Club Secretary Julianna Lott saw how creating the ASL Club would help those outside of their friend group.
“Establishing the ASL club here at Saint Vincent encourages inclusion and raises awareness for those who are deaf, hard of hearing or nonverbal,” Lott said. “Most of us will at some point interact with someone who communicates with ASL, so this is a crucial skill to develop and teach to others.”
The four club members hope that the SVC community will see the club as both an opportunity to learn a new language and as a way to inspire a better sense of community among those with and without hearing.
“I want to raise awareness for the deaf/Hard of Hearing (HOH) community and encourage more to sign,” said Stokan. “I want to show others to embrace their differences and be proud of them! I am so glad I was born with a hearing loss and that I know sign language. It's just one of the many things that make up who I am!”
The first ASL Club meeting will take place on Feb. 3 at 9:30 p.m. in room E102 in the Dupre Science Pavillion. Meetings will be biweekly. Beginner and fluent signers are encouraged to join. Students can contact ASL Club President Katelyn Stokan at her email: firstname.lastname@example.org.