ASL program fosters community on campus

American Sign Language professor Tiffany McCray is working to better connect her students with the local Dallas Deaf community through a potential new minor, campus clubs and activities.

McCray began teaching at SMU in 2017. Prior to being a professor, she was an interpreter and teacher for deaf students at Woodrow Wilson High School and J.L Long Middle School in Dallas.

In 2020, she began to develop a curriculum for a sign language minor in hopes that she could connect more students with the language.

“I just typed up a proposal. And I typed up the classes I thought they should offer in the minor and I created class descriptions for all of the classes and prerequisites,” McCray said.

The potential minor will focus on a variety of topics that will allow students to better connect with the Deaf community, she said. Possible courses include fingerspelling and Deaf culture.

Potential courses for the minor include fingerspelling, Deaf culture, artistic ASL and ASL in specialized setting.
Potential courses for the minor include fingerspelling, Deaf culture, artistic ASL and ASL in specialized setting. Photo credit: Arden Eiland

Several ASL courses that would be in the new minor are currently offered at SMU. Interaction with the Deaf community is a required part of classes, McCray said.

Students attend ‘deaf coffee chats’ at coffee shops where they meet deaf individuals to practice their signing.

“They’re just out in the community. They meet these students and teach them some new signs. So my students are getting to know them and get to practice and improve their skills,” McCray said.

Students are also able to join SMU’s ASL club, which allows students to get together and improve their signing.

Junior Chad Lilly was encouraged to join the club and began tutoring sign language at the ALEC after taking McCray’s classes.

Born to a deaf dad and hearing mom, Lilly understands the challenges the Deaf community faces.

“I feel like deaf people are a very excluded minority in America, and a lot of people can’t really communicate with them,” he said.

Lilly said his exposure to the ASL community at SMU helped him to appreciate the language more.

“I’m super proud of having a deaf dad. I’m super proud of knowing sign language. I didn’t really realize how unique of a skill set I have until coming to college.”

McCray intends to submit the minor for approval next year. The minor must be approved by Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, the provost’s office and SMU’s board of trustees.

Lilly encouraged students to get involved with the local Deaf community and sign language programs on campus.

“The ASL courses here are difficult but worth it,” he said. “Whenever someone knows sign language, it really means a lot. It means more to the deaf person than you think.”

McCray said she hopes the various programs will encourage her students to be an advocate for deaf people whenever possible.

“They just can’t hear. They can do everything else we can,” McCray said.