The Goshen College American Sign Language (ASL) Department hosted the Annual Silent Retreat this past weekend. This retreat is put on by the Indiana Chapter of Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (ICRID) and happens annually at different institutions across Indiana.
Colleen Geier, professor of ASL, said that silent retreats are a common way for people to practice and learn ASL. She added that “A silent event is a wonderful opportunity for people to work on their ASL skills and break away from their dependence on others to help them understand.”
Over 100 participants were involved in this past weekend’s retreat. Many of them spent Friday night in the Miller residence hall. Members of both Deaf and hearing communities took part in this retreat, and participants ranged from interpreters and students to teachers, family members and friends.
According to Geier, this year’s retreat was themed “A Piece of the Puzzle: ASL.” Sophomore ASL and biology double major Molly Zook said that the image of a puzzle piece was used throughout the weekend as a way to “connect the vast variety of people included in deaf culture, who vary in language mode, education, family and upbringing, as well as connect hearing people and Deaf people.”
The retreat began on Friday night with a showing of the film “Audism Unveiled.” According to junior ASL major Lydia King, “Audism is the discrimination and/or oppression of Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals by hearing people who think themselves better.” First-year ASL major Emily Evans added that “[Audism is] not always direct, and it’s mostly due to ignorance.”
Evans found it helpful to process the idea of audism at the retreat. She said “It was cool to have a group of people so passionate about the Deaf culture all together to discuss the ways we have experienced audism or seen others experience audism.”
Tori Miller, a first year secondary social studies education major, found the movie powerful “because it talked about past experiences that [Deaf] people have gone through such has family members never learning sign, or being hit because they were signing, or forced sterilization…it’s heartbreaking.”
The retreat also involved a silent ice cream social, get-to-know-you games and workshops which included options for signers at at all levels. All of the presenters were Deaf.
One challenge of the weekend for ASL students was keeping silent. According to Zook, the silence began with a “voices off ceremony—a countdown to everyone signing.” As a safeguard against accidental speaking, Zook explained that there is a jar where participants “had to pay 25 cents per word that you spoke.”
Junior ASL and psychology double-major Olivia Ginn said that the silence was an important part of the learning experience and added that “being surrounded by skilled signers helped my receptive skills improve greatly within a short amount of time.”
Evans found the silence difficult. She said “To have my voice turned off for that long was really challenging but also helped me be more comfortable in my ASL.”
Miller, on the other hand, found the silence more natural. She said “I was surprised with how easy it was to not use verbal speech. We were instructed to use sign only and I loved it! It was hard to go back to using English after the weekend was over.”
Zook enjoyed going to regular meals at Westlawn Dining Hall during the retreat. She said “It was really fun to see the other students’ reactions because a lot of people had no idea what to do. I think we helped other students to see how legitimate ASL is as a language and how important it is to learn.”
Zook and Geier were both grateful that Goshen had the chance to host this event and expressed a desire to host again in the future.