ASL & Deaf Culture-Elana Sison

    As a student of Dutchess Community College, there are various opportunities to take advantage of. One of them is taking American Sign Language with Professor Mary McLaughlin. Her classes are extensive and interactive, and also give students a chance to work with a deaf professor. After interviewing her, I hope students will be more enticed to take these courses and learn more about American Sign Language as well as Deaf culture.

    Mary McLaughlin has been with DCC since 1993. When she had first started teaching, ASL courses were considered non-credit classes. She had left around 2004-05 to receive her bachelor’s degree at Marist College and later returned in 2007 to finally teach ASL as a credited course.

    Aside from Dutchess, Professor McLaughlin also teaches ASL courses at SUNY New Paltz. When asked about the differences of classes on each campus, she mentions that they are very different. “What’s different? The different textbooks. I like this textbook.” She said, in reference to the ASL textbook DCC provides. “Over there, no. The book at New Paltz is easy, the one at DCC is difficult with more challenges. But at New Paltz, they have a Deaf Culture class, we don’t.”

    When asked about the DCC Accommodative Services and if they have provided her enough to teach her classes proficiently, she sighs greatly. She signs about the size of her class room in Hudson 402 H; it’s very small. Due to so many students taking interest in her class in recent semesters, the advantage of a bigger classroom would make it easier for students to see each other when they are signing. She recommends that the library carry more American Sign Language textbooks on deaf culture as well. She understands that today, it’s very difficult for students to access books because of how much they cost. In terms of technology, she has a projector and a very small computer lab for students to use. If the small vacant office next to her classroom were to be removed, it would give the ASL computer lab more open room for at least 22 more computers; that is far more likely to accommodate the 20 plus students in each class that fill her roster every semester.

    She signed extensively that the most important aspect of teaching this class is for students to understand deaf culture, how they can communicate with the deaf and later on teach other people how they live. She signs “You can’t see the deaf. We need an interpreter, not help. We learn, we work; we are deaf, but we are people too.” In order for more students to understand Sign Language and other basic signs, Dutchess should expand levels of classes. Professor McLaughlin dreams for more levels of ASL like 201 and 202 courses to be offered on campus and for students to take Sign Language from the classroom out into the real world. Poughkeepsie actually has a large deaf community inspiring a deaf name for the location. The addition of higher level ASL courses would benefit the college as a whole, as well as the greater Hudson Valley area.

    For nearly 20 years, Professor McLaughlin has encountered numerous students and they remind her why she loves to teach. “I love to teach my students because we learn from each other; I am deaf, you learn from me and I am deaf, so I learn from you!” she says. “Today, in life, there’s no gender, I love all my students.” When asked about the most memorable times while teaching, it pertains to the similarity in hand movements when signing few words like “coffee” and “make out”; they both consist of two fists on top of each other, but have two very different motions and it’s very easy to confuse them. She finds humor in students confusing the sign letters for “D” and “F” as well!

    The impact that Professor McLaughlin hopes she has on her students is accepting the fact that she is deaf and able to greatly contribute to society. “Don’t fix me. I am deaf, and you should learn more about it.” She says. She acknowledges that she has a certain teaching style and knows that everyone is different. If there were more deaf ASL teachers, she would love that, but knowing each teacher has a different teaching style, signs can be taught in different ways with all the same meanings.

    With that, she encourages and challenges students to understand that American Sign Language is more than hand movements, it’s a foreign language like any other. “I want students to interact with deaf people, learn about the Deaf Culture and help each other. It’s so different from many other classes and I like that it’s different.”

    Students can take classes with Mary McLaughlin in both the Fall and Spring Semesters. She offers an ASL 101 and an ASL 102 course that fill up fairly quickly. The classroom setting puts a student in a new world apart from a lecture and is accompanied by humor and genuine curiosity. Mary McLaughlin uses her hands to not only teach a fun foreign language but to speak on behalf of all deaf people who are around us every day.


Editor’s Note: This entire interview was done in ASL not English!