Saint Leo University has a new club that arrived on campus this spring, the SLU Signers. This club is focused on members learning about American Sign Language and the deaf culture. The club, which meets every Thursday at 6 pm, was founded and is headed by Rachael Stewart, a freshman majoring in elementary education.
Inspired by her sign language teacher, Kim Huston, Stewart wanted to bring this language to Saint Leo.
“Every day in class we would learn something new, [whether] it be a sign, or something so incredible about the deaf culture,” Stewart said. “I wanted to bring that amazing language here at Saint Leo.”
American Sign Language is a language that allows those that are deaf and hard of hearing to communicate with each other. However, this language also breaks down barriers between the deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing. This club allows this beautiful language to spread to the students and faculty of Saint Leo. Stewart teaches American Sign Language to the members, bridging the gap between the hearing and the deaf for the Saint Leo community.
The SLU Signers have rather informal meetings. On the first meeting, Stewart taught the alphabet and each club member how to sign their names. Every club meeting starts with the members going over signing the alphabet and their names. Also, at each meeting, Stewart reviews the the words the members learned the weeks prior, and she teaches additional words, while speaking about deaf culture. Even though the meetings are once a week, Stewart creates fun activities for the members to remember the signs.
“The benefits of joining this club is learning this language,” Stewart said. “In life, you have no idea who you are going to run into. Several times at my job that I work at, Zaxbys, I had to encounter deaf people coming in and trying to order food, and the second you start to sign to them their face lights up because they know that you have taken the time to learn their language.”
The club is running smoothly, currently educating Saint Leo students; however, Stewart had to overcome a lot of obstacles to establish this club on campus. In fact, she not only had to go through the proper channels on campus but she also had to balance her busy life to take on this massive responsibility of leading the club.
“The [main obstacle] I faced with creating this club was time. I have always been a busy person, I have always wanted to be involved with school and keep a social life. But trying to juggle everything with my jobs, classes, friends/family, and just joining Alpha Sigma Tau, it was hard for me to find time to fit this club in, but all I have to do is keep managing my time and keeping my priorities in line and everything will keep falling into place.” Stewart described about balancing her busy life, “I had to make sure I had all of the material together on what I wanted to teach. I had to get things together to make sure that I kept the members interested and wanting to come back.”
“I had to create a constitution for the club, get 125 signatures around campus, [and] create an Eboard.” Stewart said about what she had to do to establish this on-campus club.
The Eboard consists of Stewart as President, Tyler Davis –a freshman majoring in business management- as Vice-president, and Jennifer Conell – a freshman majoring in criminal justice- as historian. Stewart also obtained Patti Dempsey, a health and wellness nurse, as the faculty advisor for the club. Stewart asked Dempsey personally to be the advisor.
“She was the first person I was talking to it about and she said that she always wanted to learn ASL,” Stewart said. “So, I thought that because she is so sweet and amazing she would be the perfect fit.”
This club recently started this semester, in Jan., and not many Saint Leo students and staff members are aware that the club exists. She publicized the club through Facebook, word of mouth, and a table at the Involvement Fair. This clubs allows the Saint Leo community to connect with the deaf culture; however, the club can be even more influential, if even more students are aware of the club’s existence.
“I didn’t know this club even existed on campus,” Michelle Lightbourne, a freshman majoring in healthcare management and interested in joining the club, said. “I always wanted to learn sign language, and I was always interested in it. But in my hometown, it is hard to find a teacher for sign language. I am so elated to find out about this club.”