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Penn has signed off on the first American Sign Language/Deaf Studies minor in the Ivy League.

The minor was granted final approval by the faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences in their meeting yesterday, following its approval by the College Curriculum Committee in March.

The vote for approval was unanimous, according to Gillian Sankoff, undergraduate chair in the Department of Linguistics, which is where the minor will be housed.

“We in the department are very happy to have this minor and are proud of that fact that it is the first such minor in the Ivy League, and we’re ready to get started with it,” Sankoff said.

Sankoff presented the minor to the Curriculum Committee in its meeting on Feb. 27, and received news of its approval from the committee on March 2.

According to Sankoff, the committee approved the minor because the presentation demonstrated the department had an adequate number of standing faculty and addressed the committee’s concerns about the minor that were expressed during the previous year’s meeting, when the minor was not approved.

Faculty and students alike are pleased with the minor’s approval.

“It’s very exciting to tell everyone that we finally got it passed after all that hard work,” said College senior Arielle Spellun, the president of Penn in Hand, which lobbied for the minor through an online petition and YouTube video earlier this year.

Spellun added that there was “an absurd number of people working on [getting it approved] for a long time.”

College Dean Dennis DeTurck added that an application for the minor will be available to students online soon and that even upperclassmen should be able to minor in ASL/Deaf Studies by next semester.

Spellun also believes the minor will have major implications for the understanding and awareness of deafness in the Penn community.

“The minor will bring awareness to the Penn community of American Sign Language as a language, but more importantly deaf studies and the perspective of looking at deafness not as a disability but from a more social model lens as a linguistic minority,” Spellun said. “Penn is also among the first few large top-tier universities to have this minor, and it really shows Penn’s commitment to academic diversity and cultural studies.”


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