WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A new degree will be available this fall for Wichita State University (WSU) students. It’s one that fulfills a campus commitment and a need in the community.

WSU identified a need to bring awareness of signed languages, just as expressive and sophisticated as any other spoken language. So, after three years of planning and approval by the Kansas Board of Regents last November, the university is starting a Bachelor of Arts in American Sign Language (ASL).

WSU language options (KSN Photo)

Wichita State’s Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences already offers a wide range of modern classical languages such as French, Spanish, Chinese, and so many more.

“I don’t know if we would have ever dreamt of including in those languages an extremely important language, American Sign Language,” said Andrew Hippisley, dean of Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “One of the things we want to do is message the fact that American Sign Language is like any other natural language. It has its own structure. It has its own morphology and syntax. And you can study it with dictionaries. You can study it with grammars. You can study its poetry. It’s as beautiful as any other language you can imagine.”

Students will be able to tailor the new degree in ASL to their interests and needs by choosing from three tracks.

“The first one is a linguistics track. So it’s language and structure. We have a language and culture track, which is more of a social science track. And we have an interpreting methods track for students that wish at some point to sit for the exam to become certified interpreters,” said Wilson Baldridge, Chair of Modern Classical Languages at Wichita State. “So, they can study the linguistics of sign languages. They can study socio-linguistics and ASL in a cultural context. Study the deaf community in depth, or they can go into interpreting methods.”

The only other place ASL is offered in Kansas is at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus through Johnson County Community College.

“But we are going to be the only bachelor’s degree in south-central Kansas. And going forward, we think that it’s going to be a very appealing degree for students. We already have two students of whom we’re advising now for the major, which starts in the fall of 2023. We have two students lined up, and we expect to get 10-15 in the next year, and the enrollment in the ASL courses overall, we expect to be quite robust,” said Baldridge.

American Sign Language is a natural degree to add, especially when you consider the need for signing and interpretation in today’s workforce.

“We’re doing two things. We’re increasing the talent pipeline, and we’re showing our students the importance of the deaf community, the language that they speak on how our students can be part of it by learning to speak it themselves,” said Hippisley.

“For us, it’s growth, but it’s also mainly doing the service for the community. Doing something, as you say, to fulfill a need, which is real in south-central Kansas,” added Baldridge.

“We’re looking forward to making new friends in the deaf community and asking them how best can our students serve them in what they really need. And I think Dr. Baldrige and I are both really excited about getting to know the needs of that community and getting to know the people in that community,” said Hippisley.