Communication and Deaf studies minor introduced for fall 2021


Photo Courtesy of OUCOMJRNPR Instagram

The Oakland University Communication, Journalism and Public Relations Department announced the new communication and Deaf studies minor for fall 2021. There’s expected to be a lot of interest in the minor and related classes.

After a year-long approval process, Oakland University will be introducing a communication and Deaf studies minor in the fall. 

American Sign Language courses have been offered at OU for nearly 30 years, according to Dr. Robert Sidelinger, communication program director. However, Deaf culture and ASL courses have only recently become more accessible. 

Increased focus on Deaf culture was made possible through the diversity and inclusion initiatives from this year such as the 2021 diversity challenge and President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz’s donation to better diversity. 

In fact, ASL courses weren’t categorized as a language in OU’s academic catalog until 2018, according to Sidelinger. Instead, ASL courses only fulfilled general education requirements. 

“There were some roadblocks, and after 30 years, the classes were under the language requirement, [instead],” he said. 

Elevating Deaf studies to a minor took an entire academic year. The minor went through an extensive approval process by communication faculty, the Communication, Journalism and Public Relations department and finally, university officials. 

The long process will be worth it though, because it’s “apparent” the minor will be popular, according to Sidelinger. 

Roughly 70 million people use some form of sign language in the world, according to KBiA. ASL is one of the most common sign languages in the U.S., and it’s growing in popularity. 

In universities across the U.S., ASL has been ranked as the third most popular language course. Proficiency in ASL can benefit many fields — health, education, linguistics — aside from generally introducing students to Deaf culture as well. 

Sidelinger noted OU’s summer ASL classes reached capacity two days after registration opened. Additionally, some students have already expressed interest in adding the minor in the fall. 

“Whether it’s with your family, at work or based on what you do, many people are very likely to encounter people who use ASL,” Sidelinger said. 

The Deaf studies minor will require four levels of ASL courses, introduction to communication and multicultural communication. Eventually, Sidelinger says a disabilities and communication course will be added and could contribute to the minor as well. 

“That would be a perfect course for our minor,” Sidelinger said. “Really, we’re first building the minor and then… seeing what else can be done.”

Some Michigan universities offer a Deaf Studies major, and Sidelinger said advancing OU’s minor to a major may be “far into the future.” 

For now, to add communication and Deaf studies as a minor, students — attending in the fall — can reach out to their academic advisors. Sidelinger expects the minor will be popular, based off of the consistent interest in ASL classes. 

“It’s definitely adding value… students can add it onto their degrees now — representing what Oakland University students do and are interested in,” he said.