ASL Programs

The History of ASL at Harvard

The Harvard Department of Linguistics offered two for-credit beginning ASL courses taught by Marie J. Philip until 1994, despite high student demand for the classes. Over the next two decades, PBHA’s Committee on Deaf Awareness (now known as the Deaf Awareness Club) raised money to offer not-for-credit ASL classes to Harvard students and the greater community. In 2016, The Harvard Linguistics Department began offering for-credit ASL courses again due to the efforts of Linguistics Professor Kate Davidson and widespread student support led by the Committee on Deaf Awareness and the Undergraduate Council. Today, Harvard offers ASL 1, 2, 3, and 4 taught by Professor Andrew Bottoms (“Anbo”), and student interest consistently exceeds the capacity of the classes; Professor Emily Glenn-Smith teaches upper-level ASL 5 and 6 tutorials. In 2019, the language requirement for Harvard College was amended to no longer require fulfillment by "a written language" and so students can pursue ASL to fulfill that requirement. Students may also earn a "citation" in ASL.


Programs in the Boston area

Boston University Deaf Studies Program

As the oldest Deaf Studies Program in the United States, the BU Deaf Studies Program offers several courses about ASL and Deaf culture, Deaf history, Deaf education, and ASL Literature, all conducted in American Sign Language. This coursework prepares students for careers that require ASL knowledge and interaction with the Deaf Community such as education, counseling, social justice, and linguistics. The Deaf Studies Program offers opportunities for field work and Deaf Studies majors are placed in a field position in their area of interest during senior year. The Deaf Studies Program also provides an opportunity for juniors to spend a semester at Gallaudet University.

Northeastern University American Sign Language Program

The ASL Program at Northeastern University offers many ASL and Deaf Culture courses and plans of study with combined majors. The ASL/English Interpreting major gives students the linguistic and cultural foundation to become successful interpreters in many different settings, such as social services and education, and pass the written section of the national certification examination for interpreters.



ASL and Deaf Studies at other Ivy league schools


Many Ivy League schools offer some form of ASL classes or Deaf studies:


University of Pennsylvania’s Deaf Studies department offers ASL Classes up through an advanced level, including classes in Deaf Literature and Culture. The first four classes in the track satisfy the school’s World Language requirement, and are split up into two-part beginner and intermediate classes, respectively. The Deaf Studies department offers a minor in ASL and Deaf Studies.


Brown University offers ASL courses up through level 5. While the university does not have a specific Deaf Studies or American Sign Language concentration, the offered Independent Concentration cites Deaf Studies as a common option. An independent study course in Sign Language/Deaf Studies further supports students who wish to pursue this field of study.


Yale University began a pilot of ASL courses in Spring 2018. These courses fulfill the college’s foreign language distributional requirement, and are offered through level 4.


Other Ivy League schools have various levels of classes offered, such as Princeton’s Linguistics of ASL or Cornell’s summer courses in ASL I and ASL II.


ASL as a growing language


In general, there is a push for growth of ASL and Deaf studies departments, both among Ivy League schools and nationwide. Columbia’s CU Sign is actively pushing for ASL classes, backed by articles such as this in the school’s newspaper. Princeton’s PUASL, the local ASL club, is also active.


The Modern Language Association of America reports widespread growth of American Sign Language, even in the face of decreasing enrollment in other languages. After a 2009 press release listing ASL as the fourth most studied at colleges in the US, an updated 2013 edition shows that ASL has leaped to third place, maintaining its remarkable rate of growth. Other languages show a decrease in enrollment between the two surveys. An in-depth review of the 2013 survey can be found here, including data on enrollment for all common languages in the past 20+ years (found on page 22).