History of ASL at the University of Florida
Signing Gators was founded in 2000 and is dedicated to the purpose of educating students at the University of Florida on Deaf culture and American Sign Language. Historically, it has sponsored Deaf Storytelling Festivals, Silent Banquets, and the Florida School of the Deaf and Blind's Dance Troop. In 2007, the group started signing the National Anthem at commencement ceremonies.
In November 2014, Signing Gators became a sub-organization under Volunteers for International Student Affairs (VISA). VISA is the oldest and largest on-campus student organization composed of over 4,500 students across 21 different cultural organizations dedicated to cross cultural education.
In March 2015, Signing Gators sponsored the first-ever Florida Intercollegiate American Sign Language Idol after inviting students from Santa Fe College and the University of South Florida. This music interpretation event was co-sponsored by VISA's International Month, and judged by Amber Galloway-Gallego (hearing, Nationally Certified Interpreter), Lani Crosby (hearing, Nationally Certified Interpreter), Kia Vallery (Deaf), and Dr. Glenna Ashton (Deaf).
In September 2016, Signing Gators began signing the National Anthem at the home football games for the University of Florida. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium holds about 90,000 people every game day; we are now able to make UF more accessible, one hand at a time!
In March 2017, the University of Florida hosted the very first Deaf Awareness Week with the help of Signing Gators. This series of events were aimed at highlighting the rich culture of the Deaf community and provided a platform for the discussion of challenges facing Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals: Deaf Awareness Week! These events were spearheaded by the Signing Gators President, Devon Mims, and co-sponsored by North Central Florida Signing Alliance, Inc., Pride Awareness Month at the University of Florida, VISA at UF, GatorNights, and Amber G Productions!
During 2016 -2017 year, Signing Gators grew substantially (almost 1000%). Sign-in totals registered 410 distinct people attended events and around 200 people (20 Deaf community members) attended the year's keystone event, Intercollegiate ASL Idol, during Deaf Awareness Week.
In August 2017, the ASL Program expanded by bringing in another ASL lecturer to the University of Florida, Mr. Clyde Vincent. With two lecturers, ASL was able to reach more students than ever before; with a total of approximately 150 ASL 1 students!
During the 2017 - 2018 year, Signing Gators was able to pull of a successful second annual Deaf Awareness Week! Deaf Awareness Week grew from 5 days of events to a fully-packed 7 days of events. The most exciting news from the week's events were that Signing Gators broke their records for Deaf community attendance at one of their events. Deaf came out to every one of the events that week; on Friday, the Deaf totals reached over 50 for “Deafies in Drag,” with people even traveling all the way from Fort Lauderdale to see it! Signing Gators President, Ashleigh Poole, and Deaf community member Kia Vallery were interviewed for the local newspaper The Alligator in this article about the event. Ultimately, sign-in totals reached 566 distinct people attended events, resulting in a great trajectory (38% increase) for the organization.