Following UC Santa Barbara’s return to in-person instruction last week, the student organization American Sign Language 4 All — which offers free sign language lessons for all students — is looking to expand its reach and provide ASL education for any who seek it.
American Sign Language (ASL) 4 All was founded in 2021 by current president and fourth-year acting and music double major Violet Joy Hansen. Hansen — who is hearing — first began taking ASL in high school and was fluent in the language by the time of graduation. Upon arriving at UCSB, Hansen only saw that two ASL classes were being taught — both of which were at a beginner level and only offered at the Recreation Center — and noted a distinct lack of resources and education available for hard-of-hearing and ASL-fluent students.
“There was ASL 1 and 2 offered at the Rec Center, but as someone who was fluent in ASL, I needed more than that,” Hansen said. “I loved UCSB, and UCSB is perfect except for the fact that there wasn’t a sign language program.”
As a student who grew up in Sacramento, a city with a large deaf community, Hansen wanted to design events for the UCSB community by taking inspiration from the offerings she experienced in her hometown.
“In Sacramento, there’s a huge deaf community that does monthly ASL events multiple times a month to bring the community together,” Hansen said.
Thus, Hansen decided to begin ASL 4 All, which currently meets every Wednesday at 6 p.m. over Zoom to provide its members the opportunity to converse in ASL as well as learn the language itself.
“We split up into two groups — the people who are new to sign language stick with me, and then I start teaching them sign language basics,” she said. “Eventually they’ll be able to move on to the other group, which basically has a social hour where all microphones are off and everyone just lets their hands fly.”
Hansen leads the newer group of signers, and her vice president, Ashley Kuder, leads the social hour for those who are more advanced and fluent in sign language.
Hansen is the main teacher during these meetings and reflected on teaching ASL with the privilege of being a hearing person.
“It’s kind of controversial to have someone who is hearing teaching ASL because you should have a deaf person teach ASL,” she said.
Therefore, looking forward, Hansen hopes to have a deaf instructor come in to teach ASL to her members.
“In the future, I would love to be able to have ASL [be taught] from someone who is deaf, but as for right now, I’m just doing the best that I can,” she said.
Like many other student organizations at UCSB, the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 dramatically impacted ASL 4 All’s membership retention and activity. Thus, Hansen’s current focus for the club is to revive it and ensure its longevity past her graduation from UCSB.
“The goal right now is just to get [the organization] on its feet and going because I’m a senior, and I want this organization to outlive me,” Hansen said.
A long-term goal Hansen has is to create a general space for ASL-fluent students to continue practicing their ASL skills, so that individuals in the deaf community at UCSB are able to converse with hearing people with ease.
“I just want there to be a space for those who know sign language to keep up with those sign language skills so that those in the deaf community are able to communicate with more hearing people [and] so that their lives are more easily accessible,” Hansen said.