Stop Deaf Discrimination at Kent State University
  • Petitioned Dr. Jennifer Larson

This petition was delivered to:

Department Chair
Dr. Jennifer Larson
President Lester Lefton
University Communications and Marketing
Dean Timothy Moerland

Stop Deaf Discrimination at Kent State University

    1. Petition by

      Drew Hellebrand

      Kent, OH

May 2011


Kent State University in Ohio has one of the largest American Sign Language (ASL) programs in the country. When KSU announced they were going to save money by blocking non-sign language majors from ASL classes, the tight-knit ASL community at KSU sprang into action. Nearly 2,000 people signed a petition created by a student group, and students organized on the ground with in-person meetings, rallies and press conferences. 

After a lengthy negotiation period, student pressure forced the administration to back down. Non-sign language majors can register on the wait list for ASL classes and get any extra spots, and a member of the administration will meet regularly with a student ASL club.

"We have now opened the door to continue talks with the University about improvements to the program from a student perspective, and to continue working with them on achieving the rest of the demands in our petition," student Drew Hellebrand said.

Please note some changes to the petition overview.

Kent State University has one of the largest programs in American Sign Language in the nation, in one of the largest Deaf Communities. This information comes directly from the University's own website. However Kent State is discriminating against Deaf teachers, students, and the greater Deaf community by changing their rules so that studying American Sign Language at the main campus will only be open to students choosing to major or minor in the language beginning in the fall of 2011. This is a grave injustice to both the students and to the Deaf community. American Sign Language is one of the most common languages spoken in this country, second only to English and Spanish. By closing the program off to students that are not studying for a career in ASL, Kent State University is barring students from learning a valuable language that is desired throughout the country in many different fields, not just Deaf education. Class numbers have been greatly reduced. No other program in the Modern and Classical Languages Department has faced the restriction of their enrollment to students pursuing a degree in the language. The ASL program has been singled out in that aspect, and that is why we feel that this is discriminatory action against the Deaf community and culture. Join us in telling Kent State that enough is ENOUGH! Save the American Sign Language program now!

Recent signatures


    1. Drew Hellebrand
      Petition Organizer

      Silent Standoff has reached an agreement with Dr. Larson, chair of the MCLS department.

      After meeting with Dr. Larson at the silent standoff rally held on April 14, the department has agreed that students taking American Sign Language as a foreign language may join a wait list for the class. Students taking ASL for their program requirements (ASL Majors/minors, Deaf Ed., and Educational Interpreting) will have scheduling priority. Any remaining seats that have not been filled by August 8th will be opened up to students on that waiting list on a first come first served basis.

      Furthermore, the Joobila club at KSU has been inactive for a few years. Students from the silent standoff have agreed to revive this club with a new mission and Dr. Larson has agreed to meet with the students each semester to receive feedback on the program. This will allow for further discussion on additional classes, qualified teachers, a program coordinator, and many of the other issues that students would like to see addressed with this program.

      Thank you all for your hard work. It is clear that between your efforts and the media attention that we gained, we have all had an impact on keeping this program open to as many students as possible.

    2. Carol Scott
      Petition Organizer

      Great comment by petition signer Amy Homer: "I have taken ASL courses at Kent and they were the most useful and enjoyable classes I took outside my curriculum. Isn't the point of a liberal arts education to have access to classes from all disciplines?"

    3. Reached 1 signatures
    4. Drew Hellebrand
      Petition Organizer

      Front Page of today's Akron Beacon Journal Community Section:

    5. Drew Hellebrand
      Petition Organizer

      Front page article in today's Record Courier about the Silent Standoff:

    6. Drew Hellebrand
      Petition Organizer

      Student Response to MCLS

      March 16, 2011

      Dr. Larson,

      While we appreciate that the University is considering the option of an Intro to Deaf Culture course, we feel that this is not sufficient. It is the direct interaction with Deaf instructors and the Deaf Community through social interaction assignments that provides students the ability to find their love of ASL. This does not solve the problem created by restricting the ASL program to majors and minors.

      The fact remains that there are many more jobs available using ASL than there are jobs available in ASL. By restricting the program to only those students seeking a career in ASL, the University is taking away a considerable advantage that many graduates have in the job market; their ability to speak ASL. Because a program like KSU's cannot be found at any other major University on the east coast, it only makes sense that Kent State would want to keep a competitive advantage by allowing all interested students to study this language for use in whichever profession they choose, especially when considering that ASL is one of the most common languages in this country.

      These restrictions also do not allow students currently in the program to retake courses in an effort to improve their grade. With every other course in the University, students have the option of retaking the course for a better grade to improve their overall GPA. By restricting the ASL program to only majors and minors, students currently studying ASL will not have this same opportunity.

      There has not been any response from the University in regards to the fact that ASL is the ONLY program that is being restricted in this manner. While Spanish scheduling has increased next semester, Elementary ASL classes have been reduced by 75%. If the ASL program is going to be restricted by closing courses at main campus to only majors and minors, then all programs within MCLS should face this same restriction. The University must create a level playing field for all programs, and allow the students to choose which languages they would like to master. We stand united in this effort to see the ASL program treated fairly, and we do not stand alone, we stand with Deaf activists around the world. Our demands remain unanswered. Until such a time as the MCLS department and the University is prepared to discuss these demands with sincerity, we will continue to fight to keep the opportunity to learn ASL open to ALL students studying at the main campus.

      The Silent Standoff Organizing Committee

    7. Reached 1 signatures
    8. Drew Hellebrand
      Petition Organizer

      University Responds to Students:

      Hello Drew and other concerned students,

      Thank you for your message about ASL. Change is never easy and in these difficult economic times with decreased funding from the state as announced yesterday by the governor, we and other higher education institutions face many challenges. However, it is a priority for us to maintain the highest quality of academic excellence despite limited financial resources and shrinking public support for higher education.

      In determining whether a major is “strong,” we take into account both the quality of the program and the number of majors. In that equation, quality must take precedence over quantity. However, I share your concern that with this change in ASL offerings, the number of majors might decrease. That is why we are exploring other options for recruitment, such as the development of an introductory course in Deaf Culture which could attract students to the major with less expense than numerous sections of Elementary ASL, or the option for a certificate in Deaf Culture which would require fewer hours than the minor. As with any change in our offerings, we will review the outcomes and gather feedback from our students. If the number of majors drops substantially over the next two years, and funding permits, we will consider whether it is appropriate to increase section offerings at the Kent campus.

      Best wishes,

      Dr. Larson

    9. Drew Hellebrand
      Petition Organizer

      March 15, 2011

      Statement from “The Silent Standoff” to KSU Administration regarding the ASL Program

      Statements by the University are claiming falsehoods within our petition stating that the program is ending. We would like to make it clear that nowhere in our petition letter or in the petition overview posted on does it state that the program is being shut down. Our focus is solely on the exclusion of ASL as a foreign language at the Kent Main Campus. Our petition is accurate in stating that ASL will no longer be offered to incoming students as a foreign language at the main campus.

      The University has stated that this is being done in an attempt to keep the program strong. As students we feel that nothing could be farther from the truth. Many students do not discover their passion for sign language and Deaf Culture until after they have taken a sign language course. Closing this program off at the main campus restricts students interested in learning sign language for use in other fields, especially for those that do not have the means to travel to a regional campus. Restricting access to this program will in no way help to keep the program strong. As the second largest program within the MCLS department, it only makes sense that cuts would be minimal to the ASL program since it attracts so many students.

      Further, the University has stated that cuts have been made in all programs within the department. While this may be true, none of the programs have suffered as severely as the ASL program. As the second largest program within the department, students could expect the cuts to be comparable to the cuts faced by the Spanish program, the largest program within the department. However the course schedule for fall 2011 shows that there will only be 2 sections offered of ASL 1, while there are 14 sections being offered of Elementary Spanish 1. This represents an increase in the Spanish scheduling from Spring 2011. No other programs within this department have faced the restriction of only allowing students to sign up for those classes if they are a major or minor within the program, and therefore the sign language program has been singled out. Therefore, we can consider this nothing less than discrimination against the sign language program, regardless of how administrators choose to describe it.

      As students at this University, we all pay tuition, and we all pay taxes. Those two sources of funding pay the salaries of those that have made these discriminatory decisions. We will not stand idly by and allow one of the most unique and amazing programs at this school to be closed off for a vast majority of students at the Main Campus location. We are determined that our voices will be heard. Our demands are as follows:

      1. Allow any and all students to have the option to register for ASL at the Kent Campus
      2. Establish a student committee consisting of Major/Minor students to give feedback on courses, professors, and other issues within the program
      3. Provide a qualified coordinator for the ASL program (someone that knows ASL and understands Deaf Culture)
      4. Equal Deaf/ASL representation at meetings within the department

      We anxiously await the University’s response.

      The Silent Standoff Organizing Committee

    10. Reached 750 signatures
    11. Drew Hellebrand
      Petition Organizer

      Thank you everyone who has signed our petition thus far! I recently received an email and a missed phone call from Dr. Larson disputing some of the facts that are within our petition. The email from Dr. Larson states that the ASL program is not being done away with. I would like to point out that nowhere in this petition does it state that the University is getting rid of ASL. Our petition is to keep ASL open to all students, just like every other language in the program, and to have equal Deaf/ASL representation within the department, and a qualified program coordinator.

      Second: Should you receive communication from the University, I would ask that you not respond to them at this time. There is a meeting tonight at 9:00 in the Hub where we will continue responding to this matter, and we will draft a unified student response to both Dr. Larson, and Dean Moreland regarding the ASL program as well as making plans for our next steps in this process. All are welcome to attend, and I hope that you will join us.


      The Silent Standoff

    12. Carol Scott
      Petition Organizer

      Just heard back from Kent State University with a statement from Dean Timothy Moerland Regarding American Sign Language Program:

      Thank you for expressing your concern about the American Sign Language (ASL) program. I want to correct misstatements and also assure you that the university is fully committed to supporting all students who are currently enrolled in the program. Let me be clear that the ASL program at Kent State is not closing, and that ASL courses taken at Kent State University will continue to fulfill the Arts and Sciences foreign language requirement.

      However, we have recently reserved lower-division sections at the Kent campus for students enrolled in ASL-related programs (including the ASL major, Deaf Education and Educational Interpreting). This change is being made for budgetary, staffing, and programmatic reasons. It will allow us to raise the instructional standards in the sections offered at the Kent campus and strengthen the program, so that majors emerge from Intermediate II with a stronger foundation. As with all of our programs, Kent State’s first priority is in maintaining the highest quality of academic excellence. In the face of limited financial resources and recent decreases in the state budget for higher education, our choice is to keep the ASL major strong.

      The College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Modern and Classical Language Studies are proud to offer one of the largest ASL programs in the state, and we continue to consider high-quality instruction in ASL an important part of our mission and a key part of our outreach to the Deaf community.

      The restriction on the Kent campus is being phased in, and Kent campus students who are already enrolled in Elementary ASL course or Intermediate ASL I for Spring and Summer 2011 will have the opportunity to complete the foreign language requirement at the Kent campus.

    13. Kent State Students: Don't Discriminate Against Sign Language

      Carol Scott
      Petition Organizer

      Why did Drew Hellebrand sign up for an American Sign Language class at Kent State University?
      Sheer curiosity. "A couple of my roommates were taking [ASL], and I would see them signing back and forth across the house and it drove me nuts," he...

    14. Reached 500 signatures


    Reasons for signing

    • Iris Kelley ELK GROVE, CA
      • about 3 years ago

      Save our ASL/Deaf Studies Classes/Majors! American Sign Language is just as important and enriching as any other foreign language.

    • Stephanie Viviani LAS VEGAS, NV
      • over 3 years ago

      This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard! Please do not pass this. I majored in Criminal Justice at Kent State (graduated 2004) & took 4 semesters of ASL which has not only let me communicate with the deaf, but has helped get me jobs in my field where I interact with people of all languages & backgrounds.

    • Jordan Davidson AKRON, OH
      • over 3 years ago

      This is outright discrimination to the deaf community. This will deeply and negatively affect the deaf culture awareness and movement.

    • Suzanne Mason KENT, OH
      • over 3 years ago

      I will be graduating with a bachelors in psychology in the summer... but honestly, i know more about asl than i do psychology, every day of the week. keep this program strong, for other people like me who stayed in the sequence because they love the language and the community.

    • Meghan Cavanaugh KENT, OH
      • over 3 years ago

      I am a TESL major with a german minor. I wished to take ASL in my early years at Kent, but was unable to be placed in full courses because I was not a major/minor back then either. Any other language course is open to everyone. ASL should be no different!


    Develop your own tools to win.

    Use the API to develop your own organizing tools. Find out how to get started.