Column: An English major in a Sign Language Class

Class in Oak Hall. File photo/The Daily Campus

I love words. I like the way they sound when I listen to NPR on the way to class. The way they look in a poem, or a favorite novel. I like the power they hold, with just a pencil in hand, to create.

It was made clear on the first day of class that there would be no talking. No need for notebooks as there would be no note taking. A seemingly quiet classroom of intellectual minds temporarily silenced. University is sometimes overwhelming. An overwhelming abundance of footsteps, laughter and ideas on one campus. An abundance of words misused, exhausted and often irrelevant.

So, escaping the late August heat and mundane talk of food, people and sleep. I found a strange sense of peace in the sensation of stillness. The anticipation of words, concealed behind closed mouths. The unease was evident in certain eyes, wide and waiting. Awkward waves shared between friends. Nervous whispers. Was whispering allowed? It became clear in those very first minutes that speech is an underappreciated art.

Sitting in class that day I had no idea what a positive impact studying something entirely different would have on my perspective, and how two subjects that could not appear more different could actually be quite similar.

I recently spoke with a few fellow UConn students about their experiences taking courses outside their plan of study.

First-semester physiology and neurobiology major Maggie Falcone told me about her decision to take a drama literature class. “If anything, I found an opportunity to learn about something I wouldn’t have if I didn’t decide to take a class outside of my major. It honestly was the best decision.I got to meet new people and learn more about something I actually knew little about,” Falcone said. “It also gave me the chance to make new friends who I’m very close with now, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.”

Third-semester accounting major Emma Gromko said she learned a lot from taking HDFS 1060. “The class focused on personal relationships which made it interesting because I was learning about something that I experience in my everyday life,” Gromko said.

A recent UConn HDFS graduate, Maggie Luongo, still remembered her experience in a short story class.

“I really loved ENGL 2407, The Short Story, which I took as an extra elective. Learning about plot and character development as well as reading short stories from a variety of well-known authors was so interesting,” Luongo said. “Even though I didn’t need this class for my major, it allowed me to revisit an interest that I had kind of forgotten about. It was definitely a good use of my time.”

As the semester progressed the silence became less deafening. We laughed at our mistakes because we could, and we discovered a new ability that our fingers had. I cannot say that ASL came easily to me, and I will certainly not be changing my major any time soon. However, not only did I gain a new appreciation for my pen and paper, the challenge also proved to me that I could learn something new. In this case, another form of communication.

And tonight, listening to poet Shane McCrae’s reading, I watched my love of words and new skill come together. As McCrae read his writing aloud, an ASL translator signed besides him. Perhaps the two languages are more similar than I had considered.

Approaching course sign-ups for spring semester, I challenge you to try a subject you might not instantly gravitate towards. College is the time to exercise the extent of your knowledge, and discover something different.


Kate Luongo is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kate.luongo@uconn.com.